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Mountain of jiggly foam water from melted snow debris floods street


Melting snow and rain caused the Rubicon River in Hartford to overflow, creating foam runoff that spilled into the street.
Jack Ewing, Technology Coordinator, City of Hartford

MILWAUKEE – Add foam to the list of strange weather that showed up in Wisconsin this week.

So much foam flowed off the Rubicon River in Hartford, Wisconsin, this week that the city had to bring in a snow plow to clear it off a street. 

Something like this happens every year, according to Steve Volkert, the city administrator in the community of 15,000 located about 35 miles northwest of Milwaukee. It’s usually “not a big deal.”

But on Thursday, the foam went absolutely berserk.

“We got pushed into spring, like, overnight and when you throw in the great amount of snow on the ground that was melting and you also had the rain (Thursday) night,” Volkert said, “this kind of created the perfect storm.”

Unseasonably warm temperatures the past few days have melted much of Wisconsin’s snowpack in just a few days, leading to flooding across the state

The foam floating on the Rubicon River is made up of dissolved organic matter — decaying leaves, twigs, soil, etc. — that had been locked up in ice and snow.

“I mean it’s not horrible stuff,” Volkert said. “But I wouldn’t recommend drinking it.”

“It’s completely organic.” 

On Thursday, when a winter’s worth of snow and freezing rain began to rapidly melt — the high temperature in Milwaukee hit 57 yesterday — the rate of water flowing through the river increased.

That acted as an agitator to stir up the foamy organic stuff.

More: Historic, deadly Midwest floods are worst ‘anybody has ever experienced’ in some areas

More: ‘The most water I’ve seen’: Tennessee flooding leaves one dead, sparks state of emergency

When it reached a bridge near in Hartford, well, that’s when things got weird.

Normally the foam would just keep flowing under the bridge and down the river and disperse along the riverbanks. But the water rose to the level of the bottom of the bridge, which acted as a skimmer — keeping the foam in place, where it built up overnight as the water flowed past.

“It went over the top of the bridge, on the road, down the street,” Volkert said.

At one point, the foam was about six feet deep. 

A city snowplow had to be called in to clear the street.

“It was just kind of crazy,” Volkert said.

Follow Joe Taschler on Twitter at @JoeTaschler


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