NORTHAMPTON, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- While western Massachusetts is immune to the coastal erosion and sea level rise facing eastern part of the state, we do have an increased risk for inland flooding from torrential rain.
Mitigating and adapting to climate change are goals for many communities across western Massachusetts.
We visited Northampton, who is no stranger to extreme weather.
In order to understand where Northampton is going in the future, we first have to take a trip back to more than 80 years ago.
Winter 1936 was a harsh one for western Masaschusetts with big snowfalls and long stretches of freezing temperatures. The Connecticut River and most of its tributaries were nearly completely frozen over.
After a period of heavy rain and rapidly melting snow in mid-March, a dam just over the border in Vermont burst, sending an enormous wall of water down the Connecticut River.
The city of Northampton is particularly vunerable to the rising waters of the Connecticut River. The lone levy surrounding the city had previously done a good job of holding back the river, but they didn't stand a chance against the biggest flood in 300 years.
Downtown sights that you recognize today were left under feet of water.
The flooding was made worse when water from the Connecticut River backed up into the Mill River, causing inundation up to Paradise Pond by Smith College.
In today's money, the damage in the 1936 flood was nearly $100 million.
After the flood, Northampton's mayor William Feiker wrote to the federal government "...The time has come that we have not enough protection without dike protection in Northampton... We do not come down here to beg of you... But we would like protection, if possible."
So the Army Corps of Engineers did just that. They constructed large levies and dikes around Northampton, even rerouting the mill river to decrease the flood threat to downtown.
Fast forward to today.
"Those dikes were incredibly well built," said Wayne Feiden, director of planning and sustainability for Northampton.
Feiden's job is not just bringing the city up to speed, but always adapting it to the future.
"They are probably built taller that we need for even changing floods, but we don’t know that. They haven’t been reanalyzed since 1939," Feiden noted.
The city received grant money from the Commonwealth to inspect their current flood control system.
"We are currently spending $350,000 dollars to drill a lot of holes through the dikes and to do a full analysis. At the end of the study, we are either going to breath a sigh of relief that the dikes are in good shape or we have to invest more money in them. That’s critical for downtown success," Feiden explained.
Over the last 50 years, the average temperature for Massachusetts has increased by three degrees. That's important because with each degree of temperature rise, the atmosphere can hold four percent more water.
Heavy rains are becoming heavier. By 2050, 1 in 100 year floods will be more like 1 in every 23 year floods.
"We have hundreds of miles of ancient pipe that is collapsing anyway and it’s going to get worse with climate change. Our infrastructure is just not ready for that," Feiden noted.
Feiden is committed to working hard to ensure Northampton never experiences a flood reminiscent of 1936 ever again.
"My office is the office of Planning and Sustainability, but we are clear that every single city department has to be focused on this. We are moving the right direction, but it’s just a long way to keep going," Feiden added.
SPECIAL THANKS to Forbes Library's Archives Department for their assistance in obtaining the historical images of the 1936 Flood.