NEW BUFFALO — An extensive area along the lakefront in New Buffalo was underwater Wednesday and Thursday, April 29 and 30, due to high winds and consistent rainfall.
After three days of rain and wind gusts hitting 45 miles per hour, Lake Michigan water levels rose and were pushed across North Whittaker Street between the Whittaker Street Bridge and the public beach. Adjacent areas including the Harbor Pointe condominiums and Lions Park, and the city's boat launch area also experienced flooding.
City Manager David Richards said the water began to recede later on Thursday after the city was forced to close the street Wednesday afternoon (by Saturday, May 2, lake and river levels were back to the new "normal" and the public beach was filled with visitors - see "Park Life Blooms in Spring" article in Features section of this website).
“This was the most severe flooding that I’ve experienced since I’ve been manager,” Richards said. “There was a lot of wind coming off the lake and we also had a lot of rain that raised the level for the Galien River. We had a bit of a perfect storm.”
Richards said the flooding was centered around the temporary seawall the city paid to have installed between the bridge and the public beach parking lot.
He said the seawall did a good job, given the circumstances.
“This was the first storm that we experienced with the wall and we found that some of the interlocking spaces allowed water to flow through between the blocks,” Richards said. “Water was high, but not higher than the blocks, though. It was probably 8 inches to a foot below the wall. But the water came in off of the river much higher toward the beach than it has in the past.”
The water flowed passed the walkway in the beach parking lot into Whittaker Street and into the area east of the seawall.
Richards said city workers pumped water away from the area and got it back to the other side of the seawall. He said the plan is to next address the stormwater sewer drain to prevent the river having such an impact of future floods.
New Buffalo residents also witnessed flooding near a section of Berrien and North streets, by the Marina Grand Resort.
“We’re working to find a solution,” Richards said. “I’ve spoken with longtime residents who expressed this is the worse flooding they’ve ever seen. I just want people to know that we’re working on the flooding on Whittaker Street. We have engineers looking at it today.”
According to the National Weather Service’s Northern Indiana office, northwest winds were hitting the lakeshore regularly from 20-35 mph. However, some of the gusts broached 45 mph on Thursday.
This resulted in 8- to 14-foot waves.
Chris Morris, forecaster with the National Weather Service, said the last time the region saw gusts this high was on April 13, when wind speeds topped out at 43 mph.
The reason there was no flooding at that time was because of the direction the wind was blowing in.
“With this event, the region had a fair amount of easterly winds that saw a little bit of water transfer from Lake Huron to Lake Michigan. It’s an accumulation of multiple factors for us to see this hazardous flooding,” Morris said. “(On April 13) the winds were coming from a different direction. Unlike today, which were more onshore winds, they were more offshore and not exactly perpendicular to the lakeshore. That does have significant impacts on wave height and lake levels.”