June 2008 floods in southern Wisconsin

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In June 2008, heavy rain caused severe flooding across southern Wisconsin. Record gage heights and streamflows occurred at 21 U.S. Geological Survey streamgages across southern Wisconsin from June 7 to June 21.

The June 2008 floods were aggravated by saturated soils that persisted from unusually wet antecedent conditions from a combination of floods in August 2007, more than 100 inches of snow in winter 2007–08, and moist conditions in spring 2008. The flooding caused immediate evacuations and road closures and prolonged, extensive damages and losses associated with agriculture, businesses, housing, public health and human needs, and infrastructure and transportation. A popular recreational lake, Lake Delton, drained suddenly after a portion of a county highway and underlying dike failed due to over-saturated soils, creating a new drainage channel to the Wisconsin River.

Record gage heights and streamflows occurred at 21 U.S. Geological Survey streamgages across southern Wisconsin from June 7 to June 21, 2008. Peak-gage-height data, peak-streamflow data, and flood probabilities were tabulated for 32 USGS streamgages in southern Wisconsin. Peak-gage-height and peak-streamflow data also were tabulated for three ungaged locations.

Extensive flooding along the Baraboo River, Kickapoo River, Crawfish River, and Rock River caused particularly severe damages in nine communities and their surrounding areas: Reedsburg, Rock Springs, La Farge, Gays Mills, Milford, Jefferson, Fort Atkinson, Janesville, and Beloit. Flood-peak inundation maps and water-surface profiles were generated for the nine communities in a geographic information system by combining flood high-water marks with available 1-10-meter resolution digital-elevation-model data. The high-water marks used in the maps were a combination of those surveyed during the June flood by communities, counties, and Federal agencies and hundreds of additional marks surveyed in August by the USGS. The flood maps and profiles outline the extent and depth of flooding through the communities and were used in flood response and recovery efforts by local, county, State, and Federal agencies.

A full archive of information, images, and data about the June 2008 floods is available.

Community flood-peak inundation maps and supporting data

An overview poster of the 2008 southern Wisconsin floods is available.

The following data are also available for download:

  1. High-water mark tables (pdf, excel, and shapefiles)
  2. Flood-peak inundation maps (pdf, shapefiles)
  3. Flood-depth map grids (pdf, grids)
  4. Flood-peak water-surface profiles (pdf)

These files are available for the following locations:

  • Baraboo River at Reedsburg
  • Baraboo River at Rock Springs
  • Kickapoo River at La Farge
  • Kickapoo River at Gays Mills
  • Crawfish River at Milford
  • Rock River at Jefferson
  • Rock River at Fort Atkinson
  • Rock River at Janesville
  • Rock River at Beloit
  • All communities


Estimated Peak Streamflows (from SIR 2008-5235)

Peak-gage-height data, peak-streamflow data, and estimated flood probabilities from the June flood for 32 USGS streamgages and 3 ungaged locations are presented in tables 3 and 4. The data listed in table 3 have not received final checks as of the date of writing (December 2008) and are considered provisional until published in the USGS “Water-Resources Data for the United States” annual report for water year 2008. Table 5 lists the correspondence between flood probability and recurrence intervals for commonly used flood probabilities. New gage-height or streamflow records were set at 21 USGS streamgages. Flood probabilities at the streamgages with record gage-height or streamflow ranged from 0.002 to 0.04 (range based on 95-percent confidence intervals). Five streamgages had estimated flood probability ranges of 0.005 or less based on the 95-percent confidence intervals (table 3). The Baraboo River peaked at 10 ft above flood stage (National Weather Service, 2008). Some streams rose and fell rapidly beginning on June 7 or soon after (table 3, fig. 5). Large streams took longer to peak; the Rock River at Afton did not peak until June 21, and flooding continued into July (table 3, fig. 5).

The June 2008 flood took on different characteristics in each of the nine severely damaged communities included in this study. At Reedsburg and Rock Springs, flows of the Baraboo River peaked at approximately 11,500 to 12,900 ft3/s in the early hours of June 10 after especially heavy rainfall fell on the watershed upstream from these communities (table 4). Farther downstream and to the east, the Baraboo River at Baraboo peaked 3 days later from additional thunderstorms that hit the eastern part of the watershed harder than the western part upstream from Reedsburg (figs. 1 and 5). The flooding on the Baraboo River likely had flood probabilities of 0.002 or less (table 3). Flooding on the Baraboo River was responsible for unprecedented closures of Interstates 90-94 and 39 north of Madison.

The Kickapoo River at the communities of La Farge, Gays Mills, and Steuben rose and fell rapidly from June 8 to June 12 following the weekend rains on June 7–8 (fig. 5; tables 3 and 4). Peak streamflows at La Farge, Gays Mills, and Steuben had flood probabilities of 0.002 to 0.01 (tables 3, 4, and 5). Peak streamflow for Gays Mills was estimated to range from 19,200 ft3/s (rating extrapolation) to 22,000 ft3/s (step-backwater model, Robert Watson, National Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, written commun., 2008). Peak streamflow estimates for the Kickapoo River at Gays Mills seem low compared with peak streamflows for La Farge (upstream 22,100 ft3/s) and Steuben (downstream, 28,700 ft3/s); however, comparison of historical peak streamflows of the Kickapoo River from the three streamgages indicate that the peak streamflows can vary from what would be expected based on basin size. Possibly storm tracks and flood-plain storage, among other unknown factors, affect peak streamflow relations among the three streamgages. Gage heights for the June 2008 flood peak in La Farge, Gays Mills, and Steuben were 0.9, 1.9, and 4.4 ft higher than the gage heights for the July 1978 flood, respectively (fig. 6, tables 3 and 4; Hughes and others, 1981). For Gays Mills, the June 2008 gage height was approximately 0.3 ft higher than the August 2007 flood-peak gage height (fig. 6).

Farther east, the Crawfish River at Milford rose more slowly than the Kickapoo and Baraboo Rivers and peaked on June 16 after the second set of thunderstorms on June 12 (fig. 5, table 3). The low-lying gentle topography and numerous wetlands in the Crawfish River watershed contributed to the long duration of the flood, which lingered into the latter part of June. Peak streamflow for the Crawfish River likely had a flood probability less than 0.01 (table 3).

The communities of Jefferson, Fort Atkinson, Janesville, and Beloit along the Rock River also experienced prolonged flooding (fig. 5), and the Rock River did not peak until June 21 at Indianford and Afton (table 3). Estimates for flood probabilities for the flooding along the Rock River range widely, from 0.002 to 0.04 (table 3). The extended time for the Rock and Crawfish Rivers flooding resulted in the unprecedented closure of westbound Interstate 94 for June 13–19 between Milwaukee and Madison (Channel 3000, 2008).


Figure of hydrographs from June 2008 floods in Wisconsin

Hydrographs showing selected USGS streamgages in southern Wisconsin for June-July 2008 (from SIR 2008-5235).