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Despite February thaw, concerns about flash flooding are not major

February 18, 2011

Punxsutawney Emergency Management Coordinator Charlie Hoeh surveys Mahoning Creek to assess the potential for flooding to occur. At this point in time, the creek is running low, with a slow flow and little or no ice jams. (Photo by Larry McGuire)

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Are you ready to be flooded with warm spring weather?

Thankfully, the recent February thaw has been slow, which helped stem off the quick meltdown that often causes area creeks and streams to overflow their banks.

Punxsutawney Borough Emergency Management Coordinator Charlie Hoeh said that people who live in a flood plain never think about preparing for a flood until the water is rising up the front steps. So the time to prepare is right now.

Hoeh said once a flood watch is issued, one of his jobs is to keep a close eye on the water level at Mahoning Creek. Attached to the East End bridge is a stream gauge used to keep track of how much water flows down the creek.

Hoeh said that once flooding begins, crews can use the gauge at any time to begin measuring the water and see how fast it’s rising.

The National Weather Service has quite a few electronic gauges located downstream in the Pittsburgh area to measure the big rivers and creeks.

“Due to federal budget cutting, there’s a good chance that substantial cuts are going to occur to emergency management,” Hoeh said, although the National Weather Service will maintain stream gauges until they break down.

Hoeh said if the gauges cannot be maintained, it would fall back on the eyes and ears of weather spotters and emergency management staff.

AccuWeather meteorologist Mike Pigott said that at this time, western Pennsylvania will not experience any flooding, since there wasn’t as much snow to melt when this week’s thaw began.

Pigott said some creeks will run high, but there’s little potential for flooding.

Widespread flooding begins with rainfall and the melting snow, which is not expected to occur during this early thaw.

From December through early February, western Pennsylvania has been in a weather pattern that brought cold Canadian arctic air to the northeastern portion of the United States day by day.

“That weather pattern is beginning to break, and we’re seeing more spurts of mild weather that will oscillate back and forth with cold fronts that are moving through the region,” Pigott said. “It seems that the worst of winter is behind us.”

Pigott said flooding occurs mostly during the summer months and is dependent on the amount of precipitation that falls during a flood event.

Hoeh said the creek level is pretty low now, two or three feet deep in most sections, depending on the spot.

“It doesn’t take long for that to change, when we begin to have melting snow and heavy rains to bring it up quick,” he said. “One foot of snow equals an inch of rain. If there are several feet of snow on the ground, then there are several inches of rain that could potentially come downstream, depending on the amount of rain we would receive at that time.”

Hoeh said it’s only halfway through February, and that winter weather could come again next week.

Hoeh encourages everyone to not wait, but to make emergency escape plans now by first preparing an emergency pack in case of a flash flood.

“If you wait until it occurs, you might not make it out in time,” he said.

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