Spring runoff in the River Valley area, April 15, 2014
ROXBURY — A section of Route 120 between Roxbury and Andover was closed before noon Tuesday because of rising floodwater from high temperatures and snowmelt, state and local officials said.
Flood warnings were issued early Tuesday afternoon for minor flooding of the Androscoggin River at Rumford and Auburn, and of the Swift River at Roxbury, according to the National Weather Service in Gray.
Teresa Glick said Route 120 was the only road closure in Oxford County that she knew of early Tuesday evening. Glick is deputy director of the Oxford County Emergency Management Agency in Paris.
Heavy rain forecast to fall Tuesday into Wednesday will only exacerbate the problem, Mark Hume, regional project manager for the Maine Department of Transportation, said Tuesday.
The road, known locally as the Roxbury Notch Road, will be closed for a while due to a culvert washout in the low-lying Meadow Brook area where the old satellite station used to be.
Roxbury Selectman Tim Derouche said Route 120 is open to local traffic only from the intersection of Main Street and Roxbury Notch Road at Roxbury Pond Village to the Frye cutoff road that connects routes 120 and 17. Roxbury Pond Road itself between Andover and Roxbury is closed to traffic.
"Gravel around the pipes was washed out, so it's like a pavement bridge right now," Hume said.
The road was closed because "a sudden stop from 50 (mph) to zero is something we'd like to avoid," he said. "We can't fix it while it's underwater."
That culvert was slated for replacement to better handle large flows; Hume said he'd try to get that project expedited.
Warm temperatures and rainfall have elevated flood risk in all areas. Flood potential was already high because of an above-normal snowpack, river ice and rising stream flows.
The Oxford County EMA on its Facebook site released a flood warning from late Tuesday night until Wednesday afternoon for the Androscoggin at Rumford. By 1 p.m. Tuesday, water had reached 11.1 feet. Flood stage is 15 feet.
The bulletin said the river is forecast to surpass flood stage after midnight Tuesday and to rise to near 16.5 feet by Wednesday morning. The river is expected to fall below flood stage later that morning.
The flood warning for the Androscoggin River near Auburn, also for minor flooding, is from late Tuesday night until Friday morning, the weather service bulletin stated.
By noon Tuesday, the water level was 9.5 feet; the flood stage is 13 feet. The river was forecast to rise above flood stage by early Wednesday and to continue rising to near 18 feet by Wednesday evening, and to fall below flood stage by Friday morning.
The flood warning for the Swift River in Roxbury was for Tuesday afternoon to Wednesday afternoon, according to the Oxford County bulletin. By 1 p.m. Tuesday, runoff was at 5.6 feet; flood stage is 7 feet. The Swift River was forecast to rise above flood stage late Tuesday afternoon to near 10.3 feet after midnight Tuesday, and to fall below flood stage by late Wednesday morning.
Route 17 in Byron was reduced Tuesday evening to one lane until 7 p.m. Wednesday because of water over the road, according to the MDOT.
"We closed 17 up at South Shore Drive so traffic wouldn’t get all the way down to Byron and have to turn around and go all the way back up," Hume said.
The Androscoggin River at Rumford on Tuesday was a roaring spectacle that could be heard throughout the downtown. And that was before 11:30 a.m., when heavy rain began to fall.
The flow over Rumford Falls at Brookfield Dam was expected to get even more spectacular Tuesday into Wednesday, Glick said.
Featuring a drop of 176 feet, the cascade-type waterfall is the largest vertical falls east of Niagara Falls. People come from miles around to watch, photograph and film it from the Information Center beside Route 2 during spring runoff.
Shelburne Dam in Shelburne, N.H., was expected to begin releasing water soon, increasing flows, Glick said.
Most of the Androscoggin River reservoirs behind the dams are large enough that they can accommodate spring runoff, but the Shelburne reservoir is smaller, she said.
"We're also expecting the Saco (River) to do to Fryeburg what it usually does this time of year," Glick said.
She said the agency was in a "wait-and-see" stance, because the rain was just beginning to fall. Should any flooding problems develop, Glick said she anticipated that would begin later Tuesday afternoon or evening.