For Brookside Stables owner Ann Brown, it was a nightmare. She half-jokes that she has post-traumatic stress disorder from Tropical Storm Irene’s flooding. On January 12, she was manning the office at Brookside Stables late into the night, worrying about the rising Deerfield River and an ice jam she had seen on the river earlier in the day. She says she knew the jam wasn’t likely to be washed down the river, thanks to a blockage in the flow created by two large trees that has become lodged during flooding last October.
Water backed up behind the jam created a detour through her field during the day, and by nightfall water in the field was reaching the buildings sheltering the 27 horses at her facility.
“I stayed here until midnight that night, going out with a flashlight and checking every few minutes,” Brown says. “I knew we’d be okay as long as another jam didn’t come down the river, the water would continue to bypass through the field. But what if another one does come down? Then we’d be in deep water quickly.”
Brown says she has an emergency plan if the horses need to be moved to alternative sites, but it requires time to move them by trailer, and the expense of caring for the animals at other locations would be devastating to her business. If the water came up too quickly – she could be out of time and out of business.
In fact, there was another ice jam forming upriver from the initial ice jam, but she didn’t know it at the time. Fortunately, the upriver jam didn’t move down the river, and didn’t divert water into her fields.
When the rain stopped and the worst of the flooding receded, Brown contacted the state for permission and advice on removing the trees that were blocking the ice, before contacting Brown’s Country Services for help. Located adjacent to Brookside Stables, they sent an operator down with an excavator to pull the trees out of the water.
Brown says she was surprised to find that the trees, complete with roots and branches, were much larger than they appeared from the surface. Now piled next to the river, the stack of trees appears to be several feet high.
But removing the logs didn’t loosen the ice jam. Thanks to the season’s unusually long and early cold snap at the beginning of January, the ice was thick – two feet thick in most places and as much as three feet in some spots. The thick, heavy slabs of interlocked ice wouldn’t budge on their own.
Brown was faced with a long and nervous wait until the next rain or thaw, and the possibility of another flooding crisis.
Working along the river for about 400 yards, on what looked like a crumbling glacier or an Antarctic ice field, the excavator operator opened a channel, pulling large blocks of ice out of the water and stacking them on the river bank. After working for a day and a half, a channel about eight feet wide was opened, creating a fast-flowing narrow spot in the river – at least until the next deep freeze.
“I’ve never seen an ice jam this bad,” says Brown, who grew up on the land. “It’s kind of scary. It still scares me. If it keeps staying fairly warm, or we get a little rain to keep breaking the new ice that forms, we’ll be okay. But what if we get another hard freeze, and a warm quick spring? We could have a whole lot of trouble here. And I keep thinking about the jam behind the trailer park.”