Catching The Thaw… and clearing drains

The National Weather Service office in State College is reporting flooding is unlikely, but that doesn’t mean crews in Warren County are ignoring the risk.

A National Weather Service (NWS) flood potential report on Thursday cited expected rainfall of between one half and one inch coupled with above-freezing temperatures through Saturday. However, it predicted the existing, deep snowpack will absorb rainfall and limit melt runoff from the expected spike in temperatures.

“After a long stretch of cold and snowy weather the region is experiencing a significant warm up for the next couple of days,” according to an afternoon update to the report. “Expected rainfall is such that rivers are not forecast to rise to flood warning levels. Isolated local and urban flooding from snow melt [is] also possible.”

Meanwhile, both the City of Warren Public Works Department (DPW) and PennDOT are diligently working to minimize the risk of flooding by clearing drainage systems.

“We’re cleaning drains and inlets in preparation for the quarter inch or more rain we’re expecting and the runoff from the melt,” Jesse Williams, assistant county maintenance manager for Warren County with PennDOT, said. “We’ve got signs ready in case of standing water and flooding. We’re prepared and we’ve got crews out all over the area.”

In the city, DPW is diverting resources from planned pothole patching to ensure drainage systems are clear.

“We are out clearing of catch basins today in preparation for the melting and rain that appears to be heading our way today and tomorrow,” Vinnie Massa, city assistant supervisor of public works, said Thursday. “With the vast majority of our catch basins being covered by snow and ice, I felt we needed to pause with patching temporarily to make sure melting snow and rain had a place to go other than to sit in the streets and add to the ice and street conditions issues.”

Ice jams present an unpredictable flood risk, according to the NWS, but lower than average stream flows should limit the risk.

“Widespread ice movement unlikely, but any time there is a warm up, there is an increased potential for ice jams and associated flooding,” the NWS report warned. “When, where and if any ice jams occurs cannot be predicted, so monitoring area waterways is advised for the next several days. Any ice jam related flooding would most likely be limited to small streams and waterways.”

The update included further acknowledgement of the possibility of ice jams.

“There is a good chance that ice will be moving on any of the frozen rivers and streams, and ice jams are possible,” the update said.

It’s a risk factor PennDOT acknowledged as well.

“Most streams are frozen right now,” Williams said. “That could make a difference.”

He also warned drivers not to risk flooded roadways if they encounter them.

“We want to make sure to let people know, don’t drive through any standing water,” Williams said.

The NWS is predicting an end to rainfall during the day Friday, but continuing daytime high temperatures in the 40s through Saturday. Temperatures are predicted to begin to drop on Sunday with daytime highs in the 30s transitioning to highs in the 20s on Monday and Tuesday. Daytime highs are predicted to drop back into the teens by Wednesday.