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Winter Rain Forcing ‘Jolly Holiday Lights’ to Close for Season

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DES MOINES, Iowa - The unusual wet winter weather is causing a popular Des Moines holiday tradition to end early.

Jolly Holiday Lights at Water Works Park, hosted by Make-A-Wish Iowa as its largest fundraiser each year, was forced to close the drive-through light show early Saturday night due to heavy rainfall.

"Obviously, rain and electricity don't mix, so it has produced a little bit of a challenge for us," said president and CEO of Make-A-Wish Iowa, Chris Voggesser. "We did have to unfortunately have to close last night, due to that and a transformer going out. Because obviously, without electricity, it's hard to have lights on."

Voggesser initially hoped to reopen the light show Monday, but Sunday afternoon, after reassessing rain totals and talking with officials at Des Moines Water Works, he announced the fundraiser would tear down for good 20 days earlier than planned.

"Even though we had to close at 8:30, 1,100 cars already went through [Saturday night]. Last year, at the end of all of this, we had 28,000 cars go through. That tremendous support, we don't take for granted," he said. "This is our 20th anniversary. Please continue to support us - our kids need it."

Make-A-Wish Iowa has a lot of ground to make up for when it comes to fundraising, now. As its largest fundraiser each year, closing 20 days ahead of schedule delivers a major blow to the number of donations the group could have received. Voggesser is hoping Iowans will be in the giving spirit, and still donate on their website.

"Any challenges we face down here is nothing like the challenges our Wish kids and families face every day," he said. "And that's why we're out here, trying to raise money for these great kids to take them on their one true wish."

Bill Stowe, CEO and general manager of Des Moines Water Works, says the park will likely close Sunday night if Raccoon River floods. But while this unusual wet winter weather might have Iowans scratching their heads, he suggests it could be the new normal.

"Thousands of people have been in Paris the past couple of weeks talking about climate change issues. So, kind of our view that it's winter, it should be snowing, the weather should be stable, has been shattered by a lot of evidence in the scientific community," he said.

Water Works park has certainly been closed in the winter before; just never because of rain.

"We've had the park close before, but it's usually from an ice jam - not too much water coming through the Raccoon system coming to us," he said.

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