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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Calculating Wilkes-Barre's 2011 Flood Crest

Okay folks. Here's your situation:
  • It's September 8th, and you're locked in a room in the bowels of the Luzerne County Courthouse.
  • You've just been told the USGS gauge a few hundred feet away from you has failed. Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of homes are being threatened by the crest of floodwaters surging downstream toward the Wyoming Valley and beyond.
  • Your job? Forecast the crest of the Susquehanna River @ Wilkes-Barre using only the data from the three graphs above.


The pressure's on...so here we go.

The simple formula:

Height of crest / gauge site floodstage = "Floodcrest Factor"

Using the graphs above, which were available online at all times:

Sayre: 27 / 12 = 2.2500 ff

Towanda: 30.5 / 16 = 1.9063 ff

Meshoppen: 44.5 / 27 = 1.6481 ff

Average floodcrest factor upstream = 1.9348 ff

Okay...with me so far?

Floodstage @ Wilkes-Barre = 22 feet

Drumroll please.....

Projected floodcrest @ Wilkes-Barre:

22 x 1.9348 ff = 42.5656 feet

Actual floodcrest @ Wilkes-Barre: 42.66 feet

Folks, in the absence of readings from the Wilkes-Barre USGS gauge, there was adequate data available from the still-functioning gauges upstream to forecast the potential floodcrest @ Wilkes-Barre to within ~0.3%, or just over an inch.  

I realize my approach may be too simplistic for some and, of course, hindsight is 20/20. I'm not an engineer or a rocket scientist, and I didn't sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night...but I work with numbers all day long, and have been for 30+ years as part of my career in finance and related fields. Additionally, I've been monitoring the USGS gauges on the north branch of the Susquehanna for years as well, both for my kayaking endeavors and whenever there was a potential flooding event on the horizon. 

I believe the upstream data available to all the people monitoring the rising Susquehanna River clearly indicated the high water record set by Hurricane Agnes in 1972 @ Wilkes-Barre was about to be eclipsed. Why that wasn't quickly communicated to the people of the Wyoming Valley and further downstream in Shickshinny and Mocanaqua is beyond me.

Numbers don't lie folks. People do.   

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