Murray Bishoff: Dancing away the rain downtown

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Those of us who work in downtown Monett frequently witness what I call "the rain dance." This is not a dance to create rainfall, but the opposite.


The dance is the deliberate and methodical installation of flood gates and sand bags in garage doors and doorways. The routine either proceeds in white knuckle, teeth gritted haste, in solitude or with leisurely banter in a group. In the process, builders of these sand castles invoke the gods who control all these things, or at least we would like to think there is some rhyme or reason to these events.

The coming of Tropical Storm Bill brought an unusual amount of apocalyptic forecasts, threatening more than seven inches of rain on Monett.

Not that we hadn't seen such a downpour before. The 8-10 inches in five hours descending on Sept. 19, 2009, showed us it can happen. But there didn't seem to be too much excitement around in the community about it all -- certainly nothing like the predictions of White Death inundation during winter.

Water events in Monett have different phases and accompanying attitudes. In the downtown area, the first phase is when Kelly Creek is half full or less. This is a period of minimal concern, except that the stopwatch is running, leading up to the second phase. The second phase runs between the time Kelly Creek is high enough to drown someone and starts overflowing, either by back filling the storm sewers or spilling over the top. Phase 2 prompts the most anxiety. It's time, by necessity, to do the rain dance, and there's no telling what will happen next.

We've seen Kelly Creek literally lap the edge for a couple hours and never top the border. Then, there are times like the May 4, 1999, flood when you can watch it rise like a slow motion train wreck, knowing it's coming and there's nothing you can do to stop it.

The third phase is waiting for the waters to recede. Usually that only takes 20-90 minutes. But, as we saw on April 10, 2008, it can take hours. On that occasion, water breached the creek banks at 8:30 a.m. and firefighters didn't reopen Front Street until 11:30 a.m.

There is a fourth phase, the clean-up, but that's a more or less dry operation.

Other parts of town have different experiences. Those who watch the water on Nellie and the overflow by the entrance to the Bridgeport subdivision on Eisenhower may have the same phases, but in a faster timetable. Residents on Brown and Boys streets also have little warning. People in Pierce City have Monett as a warning gauge. Their floods depend as much on added flow from Larkin Creek at the east end of town as on the Big Show in Clear Creek.

The rain dance is kind of a ritual, a symbolic sacrifice of energy to appease the evil forces that threaten to envelop us. Perhaps by sheer coincidence, the dance works 90 percent of the time. This week, though the National Weather Service threats reached frightful proportions, the water level in Kelly Creek told a different story. The ground, though nearly saturated, held most of the run-off. We watched the rain dance in Cassville with some amusement, for their scrambling to put out road barricades is just as futile as some of our floodgates. However, the dance worked.

The big tropical storms, the ones with names we remember, have not had much of an impact on Monett. Some have even helped break dreadful droughts. The real bad storms, like the epic Sept. 19, 2009, rain, came without warning. And so many of them come under cover of darkness, memorably in the early hours of the morning.

It was no small relief to see Tropical Storm Bill turn out like most of the winter death threats -- all bluster and very little bite. Unlike ice storms, which can come and keep coming, at least we have a dance to fend off floods.

This time we were lucky -- one of the 90 percent incidents. It still leaves a worry. In the back of our minds, we know there will be a next time.

Murray Bishoff has served readers of The Monett Times since 1988. He can be reached at, or 417-235-3135.

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