Thursday, April 11, 2013

Melting Snow = Water

Thankfully, it's mostly over now and it has been a long time coming, at least certainly feels that way.  I've shared in previous Posts the weaknesses of our driveway and the need for a long overdo make-over.  Property disputes, expense, regulations/permits and now because we've put things off for even longer, even higher expense have been our reasons to put off doing the upgrade that will eventually have to happen.

The week before Easter was when the melting got serious and the water began to head downhill.

Our driveway, the Red Wing Blackbirds wanted it to be spring just as much as we did.

We managed to have some melting off and on before Easter but warmer temps and some hard rain the day before really set things in motion.  Saturday morning I drove up to the Twin Cities for our weekly coffee gathering and a few hours later, Peg headed to town for a haircut.  I had just left the guys when Peg called saying that the water was over the driveway and that she was going to park the car, put her boots on and walk across.  This was nothing out of the ordinary, had been expected and is why we carry our big "chore boots" in the car.

Not more than 10 minutes later, a frantic call saying that she had started walking across, decided that the water wasn't all that deep, went back and tried to drive across.  What Peg hadn't realized was that the winter's ice and snow had built up on quite deeply on the slab; my various plowing trips had scraped down to something solid, only that solid was not the concrete.  As a result, the flowing water was creating and/or had found soft spots, leaving deep ruts.  Peg's estimate of water depth was based on water-to-ice but the car had found water-to-concrete and from what I had learned after the fact, there was maybe a 6-8" difference.

The truly scary part, for both of us, was the fact that the water was quickly rising and by the time Peg had me back on the phone, the water had started flowing in under the doors.  You can see no evidence of the ditch in this video; there is maybe 3' of water flowing over 3' of ice and snow, the water is cascading down onto the ice-covered slab rather than rising up the 2' to get over it and/or go through the culvert beneath.  Everything down low was frozen or very deep snow.  The water was literally in too big of hurry, unwilling to wait for the snow to melt away.

Peg called our local towing company (keep in mind I am still over an hour away), not knowing what else to do since there was nothing that I could do to help.  The entire trip home, all I could imagine was arriving to find our car upside down, through the nearby property line fence and in our neighbor's large prairie grass acreage.

When I arrived, Kyle, in waist-high waders, was hooking his cable onto a large two strap that he'd fished through the windows and ahead of the door pillars.  He had felt for something to hook onto in back, knowing that this model of Taurus had almost nothing solid enough to hook onto back there.  My Class II receiver hitch had escaped his touch or he'd have hooked on there right away.  As he began winching, the nose of the car was trying to swing down but it only drifted slightly before we all-too-slowly had the car out of the water.  At that point, we hooked on again to the hitch and pulled the car up onto the road and around the corner as I walked alongside and steered.

We were all too busy to get photos of the towing action but did get the rescue vehicle captured as he turned it around so that he could hook onto the front end and haul it away.

Finally got the car washed......

What the flow looked like after the car had been towed away; the morning rain did little to help us.

The ditch has never  been this full before, but as mentioned above, it isn't just full of water, there is lots of ice and snow beneath the flowing water.

Standing on the driveway, my feet sort of dry but very muddy.

The downstream flow.....

So, our daughter was called and told not to come for Easter the following day.  Once the car had been towed, I drove into town, bought another car from Our Guy and then called our insurance company.  The afternoon turned lovely, mid-50's, folks in the town park were walking though I didn't see any bonnets.  There were a couple of young girls in shorts and I certainly could relate.  I made a few rounds in the park's river walk, took a nap in my car and still felt drained.  Knowing that I'd not be able to cross the water with my car or with my boots, I checked into a motel, the 2nd time in 20 years that I've not made it home at night.  Our entire family did the motel thing once when the kids were all small.

Easter morning I called Peg to wish her a happy Easter, she hiked down to our new river frontage and saw that there was only about 6" of calmer water flowing over the still-rutted slab.  I hustled my things together, checked out of the motel and drove home, easily able to drive over the slab.  Thankful the slab was still there, one of these times we're expecting more of it to be gone.  Last summer there was a huge, fast rainstorm and the top layer, about 4" of slab was ripped loose and parts of it flowed downstream, requiring a repair that I made last fall.

By Sunday afternoon, the water was again flowing deep even though temps were only a couple of degrees above freezing.  Leaving would have been ill advised that evening, though we were confident that we'd be able to leave the following morning for work due to freezing temps overnight.

Monday was cool enough that we were able to drive through possibly 8" of water to get across with again, cool overnight temps just about guaranteeing a safe and easy crossing in the morning.  We've become accustomed to an interesting daily lag in the relationship between the day's temperature and the flow of water during the spring melt.  Imagine two Bell Curves, skewed with one representing the afternoon temperature warming and cooling, another one, time delayed to the 'right', representing the water flow.  I know that if I can get home from work between 4-5 PM that the water's rise most likely hasn't started.  By 7PM, flooding is certain and long after the day's temp cools, the flow of water builds, often still running strong until midnight.  I'm convinced that it's not only a matter of the time of day and temp rise, but also of the way our valley runs NW to SE.  At this time of year, the sun isn't yet high enough to breach the hilltops and often doesn't contact enough of the north facing slopes until late afternoon when it can penetrate more of the valley in line from the west.

The all too typical "leave the car across" trick.....

Again Tuesday afternoon when we got home from work,  the lovely (and warmer) sun glimmering on the water :)

With boots almost to my knees, you can see I'm standing on concrete, the frozen ice next to me is still in place, even after almost a week of water flowing over the top of it.  Had peg been able to drive across, staying in the shallower water on top of the ice, she'd have been fine and would have never been stuck.

So, Tuesday afternoon when we got home, we had reached our limit.  Peg suggested we use our neighbor's (modern) driveway, park at their place and walk the 1/4 mile+ to our house......which is what we did.  The snow was deep enough to make walking tough and it was big adventure the following morning at 5AM in the dark with flashlights.

The following afternoon we drove across and then Saturday afternoon, again Peg had gone shopping and upon her return, the water was too deep on our driveway, so another neighbor's driveway visit ensued.

Standing on the slab, the ditch's water flowing underneath as hoped for.  You can see our neighbor's home whose driveway we 'borrowed' top center.

Mud, on top of our gravel, mostly silt that got deposited once much of the valley's snow was gone.  It will get bladed off once things dry out, done now would only make things worse.

By mid-week the valley was close enough to being snow-free.   Today that changed and according to predictions, real spring is still too far away.  The car was finally determined to be totaled; I bought it back and will pick it up Saturday, hopefully it is dried out enough to run another 50k miles.


  1. You Guys out there really need to rethink your car wash methods - seriously! Scenes like this make me incredibly thankful to live in the "house on the hill." Hope things dry up for you soon.

    1. Thanks Karen, in general, our problem is one of altitude. The entire driveway is too low and literally becomes the channel. We are hoping to make some changes.

  2. Yuck! Now I understand why some people might need pick-up trucks, either for river crossings or for rescue... The poor car...
    Glad that nothing serious happened.

    1. Sonja, I've been reluctant to use the old plow truck since it is living on borrowed does have the necessary clearance and most likely would make the traverse safely, at least when the water is at anything less than full tilt.

  3. What kind of water damage did they find to make them total the car? Just interior stuff or did water get into the transmission or engine?

    What an adventure. I used to live in a house that had similar issues and once got a 4WD 1ton crew cab stuck to the axles. That took a while to get unstuck.

    What a challenging driveway!

    1. Richard,
      The water was over the seat cushions but below the fold down arm rest on the front bench seat. The shop changed fluids; we were all happy the engine never was running while in the water. If we were absolutely sure that the concrete always was in place, we'd probably be able to get away with driving through somewhat deeper water. Without that base however, bad things could happen.

  4. Coop:

    I am not envious of your driveway, nor would I wish to deal with getting to and from home on a daily basis. What a pain this must be.

    could you not make that pathway to your neighbours into a driveway as you would be "on the other side" of that creek ? Or perhaps an electric golf cart with headlights instead of walking in the dark with a flashlight

    Riding the Wet Coast

    1. Bob, a good idea on the surface (a water joke there) but sharing rural driveways is a tough sell, for both parties and it's a long ways over there. By the time we'd have a road to the neighbors that was at all reliable, we could have an enhanced driveway. There are two shallow valleys between us, with water flowing, though not as deep or as fast, still a problem. Real rural people would have an ATV but I'd rather have another motorcycle (or two).

  5. Replies
    1. Keith, yes, nothing else really does need to be said.

  6. Darn!!! I thought my driveway was soft in the spring!!
    Fast moving water has an unbelievable amount of strength, Peg is lucky it didn't push the car over. That driveway really needs some re-engineering!

    1. Erik,
      Our driveway engineering last happened in 1884 when my great grandfather came over from Germany. In the early 50's my uncles dug the ditch narrower and deeper, a practice now frowned (downright illegal) upon. You are correct, an upgrade is way past due.

  7. So there are disadvantages to country living......

    Wow what a quagmire your driveway can be. Thanks for including all of the pictures and video. I can imagine the bad words that were said by Peg when the car sank that far. I think I'd have been cursing like a sailor.

    I am glad no one was hurt, just inconvenienced. Hope things dry out for you soon.

    1. Thanks Brandy, it will happen some day.....but not in the foreseeable future. Only moderately above freezing temps, some more rain and some more snowflakes seem to be coming soon.

      I thought, only briefly, about an Admiral's hat for Peg but that probably wouldn't go over well.

  8. Wow! You need more than just 'chore boots', have you considered buying an ATV or a Gator to cross the water? Will there be blog posts of a bridge being built this summer?

  9. Hey Brad, we've driven through the water many times when it wasn't as deep or flowing as hard. We need to do something, not sure yet when or what that will be.

    If they build it, I will Post!

  10. Holy Hannah! I am not sure I could deal with this. I guess there are trade-offs for country living. Hip waders may be in order instead of chore boots. That water looks fast moving.