Standing in a pile of mud and debris in the basement of the 511 Building in Ketchum on Friday, owner Lynn Knudson was at a loss for words. Thursday’s unprecedented flooding and hailstorm filled her basement with water and ice. She said she can’t begin to comprehend the cost of repairs.
The damage to the 511 Building wasn’t unique that day; over an inch of water poured down in less than an hour, according to the Ketchum Ranger Station. The streets were littered with hail, water and debris. Ketchum’s drywell drainage system—which relies on water gradually seeping into the ground—wasn’t able to contain Thursday’s downpour.
“This was a unique event and our system became overwhelmed,” Mayor Nina Jonas said. “It highlighted some issues, and we’re convening city staff to identify short-term and long-term solutions to address the problems.”
Water pooled across Ketchum streets and parks as drains overflowed and became blocked. A puddle in front of the Ketchum Post Office was wide and deep enough for resident Danny Walton to paddleboard. Ketchum Fire Chief Mike Elle said one West Ketchum drain became blocked by doormats deposited by the flood. Water collecting on Main Street coursed downhill toward west Ketchum, flooding proximal businesses and creating a river-like downhill flow. To prevent a similar situation from recurring, both Knudson and Sheepskin Coat Factory owner Brenda Norton said, the city should adopt a storm drain model with gutters in the streets.
The Sheepskin Coat Factory received damage to three basement rooms, Norton said. She placed fans and dehumidifiers throughout the rooms and hired a fix-it company to cut holes into the ceilings and walls to dry them out. She said this is the second time in five years that the business has dealt with flooding in its basement.
The 511 Building houses multiple businesses, including dress shop Theodore, which received some water damage. Knudson and her husband live on the top floor of the building, where one bedroom will need a new floor after flood damage. In the basement, drywall will need to be ripped out, many of her family treasures are damaged or destroyed, a garage door was broken down by ice buildup and silt covers the floor. Knudson said there was 4 feet of ice and water in her basement on Thursday afternoon. The entryway to the basement has a downward pitch; water and sediment flowing in from both sides of the alley managed to seep through the cracks in the garage door into the basement until ice broke the door’s seal. The garage door replacement alone will cost tens of thousands of dollars, according to Knudson’s husband, Tom.
‘The water came from Silver Creek [Outfitters], it came from the public drain and it came from Fifth Street,” Knudson said. “It was three directions coming down into our basement and created this incredible hail dam.”
Chief Elle said the Fire Department dispatched vehicles to Silver Creek Outfitters and the 511 Building to help mitigate flooding. Silver Creek owner Terry Ring said he was prepared after experiencing the Aug. 8 flooding and hailstorm, though this was a “much worse” event. He said store employees squeegeed the basement floor and quickly put out sandbags to divert the water. Silver Creek had no damaged inventory, he said, despite 2 feet of hail on its front deck.
Downhill from Main Street, Perry’s Restaurant and the Ketchum Post Office experienced flooding as well. Restaurant owner Keith Perry said employees quickly mitigated the flooding and called a local maintenance company to dry the carpets. Postmaster John McDonald said the post office had some flooding through a back door on the northwest side, and about 10 inches of water had to be dispelled. McDonald said he saw entire intersections underwater Thursday.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in Ketchum,” he said.
Local restoration businesses Valley Maintenance and REE-Construction were responding to a high volume of calls Thursday afternoon, according to their owners. Justin Larson of Valley Maintenance said the business had 12 calls in one day, with only a 20- to 30-minute span between calls. Larson said Monday that he is continuing to get calls from businesses and homeowners who notice funny smells in their buildings attributed to water accumulation.
“Most of the calls were from businesses,” he said. “There were a couple roof failures.”
Ron Reese, owner of REE-Construction, said he hasn’t seen anything like Thursday’s conditions in his 30-plus years in the Wood River Valley. He said he brought REE-Construction crews from Twin Falls and Boise up to help respond to calls, most of which came from the commercial district of Ketchum.
When it comes to paying for damages, the 511 Building doesn’t have flood insurance and the Knudsons must pay out of pocket. City Planning Manager Joyce Allgaier said an absence of flood insurance is normal for buildings that aren’t in a floodplain. She said the city participates in a program that gives reduced flood insurance rates to buildings that are situated in a floodplain, which in Ketchum applies to houses built along Warm Springs Creek, Trail Creek and the Big Wood River. The city has all its flood plains mapped, she said.
City Administrator Suzanne Frick said the city is forming an interdepartmental working group to look at ways the city can prevent or mitigate future flooding.
Heavy rain has been the standard throughout southeastern Idaho this month. Vernon Preston, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pocatello, said a monsoon flow from the southwest typically brings warm air into the Intermountain West at this time of the year, though this summer, extra moisture has arrived due to a low pressure system off the California coast. With storms developing off British Columbia, these weather patterns are more typical of autumn, Preston said. He said regular summer thunderstorms and hailstorms in this region are uncommon, but not unheard of—weather patterns like this happen every 15 to 20 years in the Northern Rockies. The valley can expect a bit of a break in the thunderstorms until the weekend, he said.
“Because the upper air patterns are traveling faster, we will get rain showers, but not as bad,” he said.