Come hell or high water.
I say that a lot. Given my knack for attracting natural disasters* in the past 18 months, maybe I should stop.
Last month, Beryl, a rare, direct-hit tropical storm, made an unexpected beeline for Florida’s First Coast, my home base when I’m not traveling the world, and drenched us something fierce. Truth be told, we needed the moisture to put out a few wildfires and bring and end to a nasty drought in the region.
But out here along serene Black Creek in Middleburg, Fla., where I’m holed up (ostensibly avoiding the misadventures that follow me in my travels) as I attempt to write all summer, we tend to get a little antsy if the rain falls too many days in a row.
Muddy backyard in Middleburg
And is it ever falling. By the bucket load. The dump truck load, even. After the first round of earth-soaking tropical cloudbursts caused by TS Beryl over Memorial Day, we had some typically hot, sunny Florida days and then kaboom!
Tropical Storm Debby decided to crash our summer party.
Dad’s pond overflowed. RIP wayward minnow.
The crazy thing is, TS Debby technically hasn’t made landfall yet – she’s still churning away in the Gulf of Mexico. But 48 hours of cats and dogs falling from the sky have made her inevitable grand entrance a moot point.
Whether she shows up in full force or not, where I live, this much rain means a whole lot of folks are in trouble.
Dirt roads have been all but washed away into drainage ditches
Monday morning, I awoke to the sound of rapids rushing… somewhere nearby. Out the front door I saw our drainage ditch with more water than I’ve ever seen flowing – no, shooting – through the neighborhood on both sides of the street. That could only mean one thing once all that water made it to its final destination.
The creek gon’ rise.
3 minute walk from my house.
Monday morning I crawled into bed with my little sister at 7 a.m. and woke her gently.
Dude, get up! I don’t want to alarm you but the ditch is crazy full! It sounds like there are rapids in the woods! Let’s go play in it! We might be able to whitewater raft!
Wait. Strike that. I’m pretty sure I said, “Let’s investigate this looming crisis with grave journalistic integrity.”
A car port on Creek Street
After investigating our own endlessly fascinating ditch, and realizing we were one raft short of a whitewater adventure, we wandered, still in our pajamas, down to Creek Street.
Black Creek at 1 p.m., Tue., June 26, 2012. About 22 feet. Flood stage is around 16 feet.
Creek Street, just off County Road 218 and Black Creek Drive, tends to be Middleburg’s flooding Ground Zero. The water that rushed through our front yard was making its way at I-don’t-know-how-many-gallons-per-minute toward this deep, dark creek that snakes through Clay County toward the St. Johns River and out into the Atlantic Ocean.
As I suspected, Black Creek was already lapping at front doors just down the road. Neighbors carried valuables to higher ground, moved vehicles onto elevated Black Creek Drive and did what they could to prepare for the rising water.
Creek Street isn’t the only flooded spot in town – not by a long shot. Take a ride down any street that borders Black Creek today and you’ll be swimming long before you should be.
Small fishing boats and canoes have replaced pickup trucks. Oars instead of gear shifts. The bubbly growl of motors instead of the roar of engines.
This water is normally 20+ feet below the bottom of the bridge
Monday morning, the weather advisory warned of a moderate flood. The creek was expected to reach about 17 feet by this time today. Seventeen feet is not ideal, but it would be manageable, at least.
Now, it’s Tuesday afternoon. Black Creek’s up 22 feet and the rain is nowhere near over.
Neighbors on Creek Street wait it out
One thing I love about Middleburg – no one’s panicking as far as I can tell. It’s not this area’s first time at the flood rodeo, you know what I mean? Most folks are staying put in their homes, though my alma mater MHS is open as a shelter in case the worst happens. The sheriff’s office is standing by with water rescue teams, but for now, everyone’s just watching.
You can’t control the creek. What can you do other than wait and see how high the water will rise?
Well, I guess you could build an ark.
Creek Street, Middleburg, Fla.
We moved from Jacksonville to rural Middleburg some 16 years ago, across the street from Black Creek, and up an important but nearly undetectable rise in elevation. Little did we know we were moving into one of the most flood-prone neighborhoods in the whole First Coast, and the go-to spot for all the local news crews in the highest of tides.
Though our garage has flooded and Dad’s beloved koi pond is overflowing, the 25-foot flood record would have to be obliterated, maybe doubled, to affect our actual house.
Our neighbors, just five houses down, are never so fortunate in circumstances like this.
Creek Street on Tuesday. There’s a pool out there somewhere.
It hasn’t stopped raining since I started writing this post, and the weatherman says it’s going to be wet a few days more.
No one wants to venture a guess at how many countless inches of water we’re yet to take on, or what that might mean for Middleburg. And it looks like Debby’s bringing some wind when she comes, a terrible party favor if ever there was one.
Black Creek at 22 feet
Come hell or high water, huh? Maybe it’s time to pack my bags and get back on the road again. I prefer my misadventures happen away from home, and I think my neighbors do, too.
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*In 18 months traveling around the world, I’ve experienced earthquakes in multiple locations, a tsunami warning, riots & grenade attacks – ok, not a natural disaster, unprecedented hurricanes in both size and location and epic floods.