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Monday, September 19, 2011

"This is going to be worse than Agnes."

As someone who frequently paddles the north branch of the Susquehanna River, I am very familiar with the USGS Streamflow website. A quick check of any of the PA gauges north of Wilkes-Barre will tell me in an instant whether the river levels are safe, and if so, whether my trip will be fast...slow...or if I'll be scraping bottom most of the time.

After monitoring them for a decade or so, it's to the point where, based upon the reading at Towanda, I know if I'll have to go around the left side of an island just below Standing Stone, or if the narrow channel on the right will be deep enough to allow paddling without having to drag our kayaks over a few low spots.

To my point: in the ~24 to 36 hours leading up to the 42.66' crest at Wilkes-Barre, I was monitoring the USGS gauges very closely, as evidenced in a previous post. And folks...the numbers being predicted for the crest at Wilkes-Barre just weren't adding up. As back-up, here's an e-mail I sent to one of my fellow bloggers on Thu, Sep 8, 2011:


Many of my friends upstream had to literally sprint out of their homes at 2 a.m. because water was pouring into their basements from the river. They were told by local authorities they had until 2 p.m. to get out safely. So much for accuracy when it really matters...

It's going to be a close one for W-B...the river is just starting to crest upstream. I'm not quite understanding why each upward adjustment for the crest at W-B was exactly 1.1 feet.

Stay dry & safe. And no damn pics from the Black Diamond!

Even when the river reportedly crested below 39 feet, the numbers - based upon gauge heights upstream - still weren't making sense. Of course, we found out after the fact that the gauge was capped at some number below 41.0 feet, and you know the rest of the back and forth that has ensued.

This past Friday, I was in the Wyoming Valley to take my father to a long overdue medical appointment. While I was waiting for the results of some procedure to come back, I struck up a conversation with the attending Dr. about the recent close call for the Wyoming Valley. For the record, this man is a prominent member of the community and is a second or third generation business owner. Anyway, I'm sure he had no clue who I was except the person sitting in front of him and one in a series of several patients he was scheduled to see before heading home for the day.

As we spoke about the areas hit hard by the recent flooding, he mentioned that an acquaintance was a neighbor of a fairly visible and knowledgeable member of the Luzerne County hierarchy. He went one to say that well before the river crested - the night before the evacuation order was given, I believe - the neighbors were discussing their preparations for the potential high waters when the Dr.'s acquaintance supposedly offered something like:

"I'm not worried. My home was not hit by Agnes."

to which the Luzerne County insider said,

"This is going to be worse than Agnes."

Folks, I wonder what residents of towns like Towanda, West Pittston and Shickshinny would have done of they knew that the high waters heading their way from the tag team of Irene and Lee had a very high probability of eclipsing the mark set by Agnes...say, 6 to 12 hours in advance of when the evacuation orders were planned or given? How much more could have been saved...or moved to higher ground?

I've already contacted a local reporter regarding this issue. The rest is up to that individual.


1 comment:

  1. The question is, was this official's statement based on some secret foreknowledge that was being withheld from the general public, or on a gut feeling that would have been dismissed as baseless fear-mongering?

    I didn't really have a dog in this race; if my house were to flood (other that the usual basement flooding courtesy of an uphill neighbor who has all of his downspouts aimed at our house), it would mean that the Susquehanna was someting like ninety feet high, and we'd all be doomed. But I was perplexed by the large number of people in harm's way who sat casually in places that would have been destroyed by a levee failure - even as a "boil" in Forty Fort suggested that the levees WERE beginning to fail. I guess New Yorkers aren't the only ones who don't evacuate when they damned well should.