Water Closet for September 9, 2014


As high dark clouds came from the southwest, three octogenarians of the Middleton Stream Team met to carpool to the annual meeting of the Ipswich River Watershed Association at an estate down river in Hamilton.  As the last of the three entered a small car, good wife Chitose came from the house with news of possible tornadoes.  The stalwart Stream Teamers were skeptical of such warnings. [pullquote]”The good fellow advised us to go no further because of a large tree completely across the road that he and his wife had seen”[/pullquote]How often had they heard weatherwomen warn of “scattered, possibly severe storms” to be only let down with sprinkles?  They left and proceeded northeast not far from the river in the center of the watershed.  They looked forward to the annual meeting of a favorite organization at a new place in Hamilton, a town of fields that a century and one-half ago had about 90 working farms.2 Horses graze there now when not at play with their owners.3                                

At Thunder Bridge, Middleton’s swimming hole on the river, the Stream Teamers stopped near the bridge to look down into the murky water where someone who worried about kids diving off the bridge had reported a large sunken tree.  None was found.  Under a darkening sky they turned on the car lights and moved on.  While leaving they heard thunder and a mother on the beach yelling to her kid, “Get out of the water.”  Our trip was starting to get interesting.  A few minutes later in Topsfield the rain started along with some spectacular lightening, the best we’d seen in a long time.  Two seconds were counted between the first boom and bolt, so less than half mile away; how inadequate “boom” is for wonderful thunder sounds.  By Route 1 the windshield wipers were turned up to maximum speed.  The flashes and loud rumbles were more frequent.  Thoughts of Keith Lockhart’s baton flicking back and forth during fast parts the “1812 Overture” came to mind.  His cannons can’t hold a candle to natural booms from the sky.  It would have been even more exciting if we didn’t have old ears.

Our speed on Ipswich Road was down to 20 mph.  It had become darker than it usually is two hours later at 7:30.  The car behind was too close, we turned on emergency flashers.  The tailgater dropped back and turned on his.  Every minute or so we had to skirt fallen branches.  Something started rat-a-tatting on the car, at first, knowing that oaks were on both sides of the road we thought the sound was due to wind blown acorns. It was due to hail we couldn’t see.  Now, not far from the rivers edge, we slowed a little more; some wiser, less cocky drivers had stopped.  We wondered about falling trees while moving or parking.  A close eye was kept out for large branches; the rain continued at a blinding rate. “Look out for the Mill Road sign.” the driver warned, then took an earlier street to the right and was lost for a few minutes.  Fortunately it took us to Mill Road and soon south across the river.  The pavement was covered with leaves and twigs.  The rain slacked off a bit, the darkness did not.

At one point close to our destination on Highland Street, Hamilton, we were stopped by branches all across the road.  A driver coming the other way was out clearing the road soon with our help.  The good fellow advised us to go no further because of a large tree completely across the road that he and his wife had seen.  We went on a bit and were soon at the number and drive sought.  Young men with chain saws warned us that the long driveway flanked by magnificent old trees was blocked.  Nevertheless we continued until we could see a beautiful field, one of many in the area, covered with parked cars. “There is a meetin here tonite”, one of us silently sang.  Two large oaks encountered completely blocked the driveway.  The men with chainsaws were there ahead of us working in the rain.  A couple of men from incoming cars helped them with the branches and logs cut.  The lights of the grand meeting house were in sight yet we were kept from association colleagues there by fallen oaks and rain.  We hadn’t brought rain gear or umbrellas.  When younger we’d have raced the 200 yards to shelter and thought it fun.  An hour late, drive still blocked, we decided to return home in the slackening, but continuing storm.  Weatherwomen were excitedly reporting TV views of the storm.   Those reporters with the big radar picture had nothing on the experiences of us survivors.4

When passing the Stream Team’s landing on Peabody Street on the way back we noticed the river was already up a foot.

“There was a meetin there that nite” without our votes.  For a while we were with the clouds, lightning, thunder, wind, and hail dancing around us at their own meeting.  This may be the annual gathering almost attended we’ll most remember; had a tree fallen on us others might have done the remembering.  “How about the storm of 9/14 that took three old Stream Teamers near their beloved river.”

1 From “There’s a Meetin Here Tonite” a lively ‘50s folk song by Joe Gilbert and Eddie Brown 

2 Nason, Elias. page 61, Hamilton section, in Standard History of Essex County, Massachusetts (Jewett and Sons, Boston) 1878.    

3 There is also a fine herd of milking Jerseys nearby at the Trustees of Reservation, Appleton Farm. 

4 Two women were struck while swimming at Pavilion Beach, Plum Island Sound, Ipswich, during this storm.  As of this writing one has died and the other is in critical condition at Mass General Hospital.  We hope she mends well and swims again.




Precipitation Data* for Month of: June July Aug Sept
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.95 3.89 3.37 3.77
 2013 – 14 Central Watershed Actual 2.03 7.26 2.20 2.2 as of 9/9**


Ipswich R. Flow Rate(S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):

For Sept9, 2014     Normal . . . 4.1 CFS                      Current Rate  . . . Unavailable

*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Aug. Normalsdata is from the National Climatic Data Center.

**Updated Sept. precipitation data is from MST gage.

THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: www.middletonstreamteam.org or <MSTMiddletonMA@gmail.com> or (978) 777-4584

Featured Photo credit: smilla4 via photopin cc