Residents of West Montrose got a rude awakening this week when large boulders of ice and cold river water washed up onto their properties.
Ice jams forming in the early hours of Tuesday morning forced the Grand River to spill over its banks, flooding local roadways and causing water damage to some properties. No major issues were reported, however, and much of the ice debris was washed away when waters began to recede again.
Freezing temperatures last month meant there was a fair bit of ice on the river when temperatures spiked past 10 degrees Monday, accompanied by rain.
Resident Barbara Dowling said her neighbour had come to their home around 4:30 a.m. on Tuesday to warn them about the rising floodwaters.
“He said it was really bad,” said Dowling, a resident of Rivers Edge Drive in West Montrose. “So we got out, got our cars moved as best we could. It was very hard. By then, Dale [Martin] the fire chief, was here directing us out of the driveway around the ice flows. The water was up to my knees.
“So it was just a mess, and it broke about 5:15, so then the ice broke and then the water just came down,” she said. “And then they were clearing the road by 6:15, 6:30, because there were ice flows all across the road. You couldn’t drive across the road.”
A flood watch was issued by the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) Monday afternoon, warning municipal flood coordinators of the possibility of flooding due to ice jams along several sections of the Grand River, including West Montrose. By the following morning, GRCA systems detected an ice jam forming along the river.
“At about 4:35 this morning (Tuesday), GRCA staff were alerted through our gauge network, and we have alarms on our gauges, that an ice jam was rapidly forming along the Grand River through West Montrose,” said Cam Linwood, a spokesperson for the agency.
At 4:40 a.m., GRCA officials alerted Martin of the flooding.
“When I got there, then there was a complete ice jam in the river and water was running over the roads and ice was on the roads. It was starting to flood pretty bad,” said Martin, township fire chief and municipal flood co-ordinator for the area.
“Fortunately, it didn’t enter the houses as it did in the June  flood that we had. A couple of basements had water in it, but nothing compared to the bigger floods we’ve had,” said Martin, noting the severity of ice deposits.
“There was ice where we haven’t seen ice for a long time, it was a pretty big jam,” he said. “Residents … had ice on their property where they’ve never had ice.”
Martin says the jam broke up around 5:30 a.m., taking large parts of the ice with it, after which municipal staff worked to clear the roadways and help homeowners with flood damage to their basements.
“The water got up high enough that it washed the ice out. Once that happened, the water level went down and within ten minutes it was down within the riverbanks again. Then we just got a snowplough in and they pushed the ice off to the side of the road, so we got the roads open as soon as we could,” he said.
“We spent the rest of the day monitoring the river, making sure that another ice jam wouldn’t be forming,” said Martin, adding that those near the rivers should still exercise caution.
“Spring is still a long ways away. If it gets cold enough, for anybody near the water’s edge has to be careful,” he said. “Anytime you’re close to the water, you have to be careful.”