Thursday, August 31, 2006

Weekend flash flood watch...

The Philly Inquirer has an interesting article about storm forecasting. Forecasters are supposedly better at predicting storm track than storm intensity.

Speaking of which, Ernesto is predicted to weaken to an "extratropical low." That means not a lot of wind but potentially a lot of rain. Wunderground says the following:

"The track reasoning remains unchanged from the previous advisory. Ernesto is forecast to continue north to north-northeastward between a deep-layer ridge over the western Atlantic and a deep-layer trough over the eastern United States. As Ernesto becomes extratropical it is expected to turn slightly north-northwestward around the east side of a cut-off low over the Ohio Valley. The official track forecast remains virtually unchanged and is an update of the previous advisory."

National Weather Service continues to say:


Unfortunate;y, as of 7:00 AM this morning the USGS stream gauges are down (at least for NJ and PA).

Hopefully we'll get one day of sunshine.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Deja vu all over again...

Every conscious person living along a stream or river in our region, especially in the piedmont and mountain regions has to be thinking 'Oh no, not again!'

No one knows what is in store, that's for sure. But the circumstances surrounding Ernesto are similar to conditions that led up to the last flood. Significant rainfall followed by heavy rainfall. The situation right now is not nearly as perilous as last June, when the river was already running quite high and reservoirs were full.

Over the past few days some areas have had soaking rains, but most of these are lower lower basin watersheds (Chester, Montgomery, Camden, Gloucester). Upper Delaware tribs were moderately high and are already starting to go down. NOW IS THE TIME TO BEGIN LOWERING RESERVOIRS!

The Delaware River at Calicoon is going back down, but the river at Riegelsville is still coming up, althoug I think that gauge should top off at 6.0' sometime tonight (flood stage is 22'). I believe we will need all of 8 inches of rain to get the Delaware River out of its banks again. Tributaries are much more vulnerable.

AccuWeather is predicting that Ernesto will dump "more than 6 inches" of rain as it slowly moves from North Carolina up through Pennsylvania.

Wunderground predicts 4 to 8 inches.

The National Weather Service in Mt. Holly says the storm is more likely to aim for South Central PA, which would still produce heavy rain here; they are holding off on numerical predictions. But NWS holds out some hope for the other model that has Ernesto spinning to the east and off the coast, a scenario that would only produce moderate precipitation here.

The picture will become more clear late tomorrow once it is know just where Ernesto make its second landfall (Outer Banks again?), something that is relatively rare. Katrina made two landfalls!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Not a promising scenario...

The lower Delaware River Basin (below Trenton and Schuylkill watersheds) has received extremely heavy rain. The upper and middle Delaware River watersheds have not received more than a few inches over the past 24 hours, at least so far. A few streams are running moderately high such as the Brodhead and Bushkill. NJ tribs are not running high at all so far.

What is most disturbing is Ernesto is pretty much universally predicted to run right up into Pennsylvania. It's a big state so if we're lucky it will head west. Indeed, one model has Ernesto heading for Ohio.

Alas, most models show the tropical depression heading for us, and South Jersey and SE PA could get as much as 9 inches before it passes through Saturday evening, with the upper watersheds getting less. We might have a few nice days before the storm reaches us, giving streams some time to go back down, and for the ground to absorb what has already fallen.

Either way, it looks like an unhappy weekend is in store for those who like to play in the sun. Another lesser concern is the impact that this wet weather will have on river levels going into September when Operation River Bright is scheduled to take place. We need the river to be less than 4.50 at Riegelsville to safely do a cleanup of river banks. Contingency plans are now under development.

AccuWeather lays out the complex set of factors that will control the path and intensity of Ernesto.

Will Ernesto Deluge The Northeast?
Updated: Tuesday, August 29, 2006 7:51 AM
For those more scientifically inclined, here is the setup. Tropical Storm Ernesto will be influenced by several factors this week. Probably the most important is land. There is too much of it in the way. That's bad for tropical storms, but great for people. As long as Ernesto stays away from wide open water, there is a limit to how strong the storm can become. On the other hand, there is bath water laying in wait off the Southeast coast, and the storm will be over that on Thursday when it has a chance to become a Category 1 hurricane. Something that will play a huge factor in the future of the storm is the jet stream. It will change shape considerably over the next 48 hours, becoming much more south to north. This will latch onto Ernesto and bring the storm right up. The flow may back so much that in time the storm could actually turn toward the northwest. The final player will be high pressure building to the north. The high will slow the storm's forward progress, while at the same time help to intensify the wind along the central Atlantic coast.
Story by Expert Senior Meteorologist John Kocet.

Hurricane Watching...

These days I am using three sources to keep track of significant weather events. AccuWeather, Weather Channel (NWS), and Wunderground. All rely on NOAA-NWS data gathered by various sources including satellite and storm tracking planes. What happens to the data is critical as there are different models being used to predict weather with varying results. For those situated in a floodplain it is advisable to pay attention to all the forecasts and prepare for the worst.

ERNESTO appears to be headed to our region this weekend as a tropical storm.

Here is a quote from Wunderground as of 5 AM this morning: "The models also agree that Ernesto should re-emerge over the Atlantic off the northeastern Florida coast and make a second landfall in the South Carolina-North Carolina area in 60-72 hours. After the second U.S. Landfall...Ernesto is expected to be caught up by the aforementioned shortwave trough and be drawn northward into the eastern Great Lakes area and possibly become a significant extratropical low pressure system. The official forecast track is just an extension of the previous track through 72 hours...and then west of the previous track at 96 and 120 hours.
This is consistent with the various NHC consensus model forecasts."

AccuWeather gives a slightly different twist with both a more hopeful and a more dire scenario: "
Flooding concerns could return to the Northeast this Labor Day weekend if a trough of low pressure, currently over the country's midsection, stalls and then lingers over the Mississippi Valley. is hoping that the trough will continue to shift eastward and send Ernesto out to sea; however, if the trough lingers, then the southerly winds around the trough will guide the storm northward into the mid-Atlantic states and Northeast region on Friday and into the Labor Day holiday weekend. If Ernesto does take a northerly track, flooding rain could deluge areas that were ravaged by floods at the end of June. is also monitoring the possibility that the trough does shift Ernesto past the North Carolina coast, but a blocking area of high pressure would then stop any more forward progress. With the high firmly in place to the northeast of the storm, Ernesto would just sit and spin off the North Carolina coast, possibly moving back inland after a few days."
(Story by Meteorologist Kristina Baker)

Meanwhile, the Delaware River at Riegelsville is up almost a foot to 4.29 and the tribs have come up a bit. Once again the Pocono Region streams have received the most rainfall and are the having the greatest impact on the river. There is a flood watch in effect today for streams in the region, but this poses no threat to the river. We need to dry out before Ernesto gets here. There is hope that Ernesto will just GO AWAY (head out into the Atlantic), but that appears to be the least likely scenario.

I will update the hurricane watch as needed.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Oh no...much needed rain but...

This just in from Wonderground!

"... Potential for severe thunderstorms today and very heavy rain over the next three days...

Showers and thunderstorms were scattered across the area this morning... but later today... some may be accompanied by damagingwinds... hail and very heavy rainfall. A cold front that passed to our south will return today as a warm front. The air ahead of it will be stable... but behind it increasingly unstable. Showers and thunderstorms are expected to form along the boundary and develop into some very strong storms. Damaging winds... hail... torrential
rains and even the possibility of a tornado could very well happen this afternoon and evening.

Please stay tuned for additional forecasts and listen in the event a severe thunderstorm or Tornado Watch is issued later today. Once a watch is issued... it is just a matter of watching the Doppler radar for storm development and issuing appropriate County

Over the next couple of days the dry conditions that have existed for much of August will be replaced by torrential downpours. Although a general two inch rain amount could occur over a wide area... there may be some isolated locations that receive four to five inches as thunderstorms move over the same spot. It has been so dry of late that it will take about three inches in one hour to cause flooding on some larger streams... but less is needed on the smaller streams that can turn into a flash flood in a hurry.

Once again... stay tuned for additional information."

Oh, you can count on that.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Operation River Bright...trash talk

Volunteer for Operation River Bright
September 16 & 23

Much has been written about the floods that have plagued the Delaware River and its floodplain communities. The untold story about the floods is the enormous amount of trash, litter and debris that was left behind by the receding floodwaters. This unsightly plague of plastic, styrofoam and metal is a threat to the river and ultimately to the bay.

During a normal year, back in the day not so long ago when floods weren't the norm, most trash that ended up in the river came from three primary sources: inflow of litter that reaches tributary streams via urban and/or highway drainage systems; shoreline fishermen; and illegal dumping (tires, appliances, construction materials).

The floods have added an entirely new source of trash. Each of the last three floods has swept away the entire contents of homes, cottages, sheds, and backyards. In some cases entire cottages, sheds, portapotties and camping trailers were carried away and deposited on the river banks and islands. The floating docks built along riverfront communities like Carpentersville and Byram were also blown apart and scattered around the river. Floating docks are the source of all the blue barrels that dot the river banks.

The trash is dispersed along the entire length of the river, but clearly the lower Delaware River below the Water Gap, and especially below the Lehigh River is much more trashed than the upper and middle sections. The reason for that is there are more people, homes, drainage ditches, fastfood restaurants, malls, and highways. Paddling downriver from Smithfield Beach or Worthington State Park you will see very little in the way of ugly trash. But rounding the bend above the Water Gap at Interstate 80 and the confluence of Brodhead Creek, trash appears everywhere along the river banks, nestled within the Japanese Knotweed and nettles.

In some cases the trash blends in with trees, branches, twigs and other natural debris to form glacial piles of trash. These tend to occur on the outside bends of islands and at the upper ends of islands. Trash also accumulates in floating mats of flotsam that usually find a resting place in the smaller eddies that can be found along the edge of the river.

I look at the glacial piles of trash on Hendricks or Lynn Island and wonder what these would have looked like after the record flood of 1955. The answer is: PLASTIC. It simply would not have been there in '55.

The most ubiquitous and ugly type of human trash is plastic. Plastic bottles, silt fences, food-store bags, and the occasional Mr. Turtle Pool. Back in 1955 one might have found some glass bottles mixed in the flotsam and jetsam piles, but probably not very many since bottles were returnable back then. But hey, what do I know? I was only five in '55.

The most recent flood carried away portions of the glacial trash piles, and built a few new ones. The piles that were carried away made it to the tidal river, and I saw evidence of this while visiting the Riverkeeper boat at the D&S Marina in Tullytown. All the boats were surrounded by floating mats of trash, mostly plastic. I expect the Delaware Bay beaches will have a new influx of trash that may have originated as far away as Walnutport on the Lehigh River, or Lake Wallenpaupack on the Lackawaxen River. No doubt the trash does not go away, and it does migrate downstream.

This year we will attack the ugly trash that plagues the lower Delaware River. The emphasis of the 2006 Operation River Bright will be to attack this plague of plastic and remove it from the river and its surrounding environs.

ORB mostly needs canoes to do the job, but we also welcome kayakers and a few power boats would make the job easier too. Email me to sign up for Operation River Bright.

More details about ORB will appear in a forthcoming post to this blog.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

2006 Hurricane prediction revised

2006 was predicted to be as bad or worse than 2005, which brought three major hurricanes to the mainland US. Tropical storm forecasters have pointed out that over the past 20 years 85% of the hurricanes have occured between mid-August and mid-October.

From the Weather Channel:
"The National Hurricane Center has lowered its forecast of how many hurricanes are expected to develop during the 2006 season. This updated outlook calls for a seasonal total of 12-15 named storms, with seven to nine becoming hurricanes, and three to four becoming major hurricanes."

Each year has its own rhythm, all we can do is wait and see what the heart of the hurricane season brings. No one can predict where the 3 or 4 hurricanes will strike, if they even materialize.

The river is as low as it's been for over a year (just under 3.5' at the Riegelsville gauge) and August is turning out to be an extremely dry month. At this point in time the watersheds would likely be able to absorb a quickly moving tropical storm or hurricane.

An announcement and call for volunteers for the Setember 16 & 23rd river cleanups is imminent. Check this journal in a few days.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

River returns to normal flow

The Delaware River at the Riegelsville gauge is falling below 3.60' and that is close to the median flow for this time of year. The last time I wrote about the river approaching seasonally normal levels was June 23rd, which is also the day the high pressure system stalled over the Appalachians, allowing storm cells to drift up from the south; that was the lead-up to the #4 all-time flood.

Today a high pressure system is bringing the promise of several days of dry weather and low humidity, something we missed in June, but is totally welcome in August.

I will be sending out a call for volunteers for two river cleanups to be held September 16 and 23. Contact me if you are interested in helping out.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Upper Delaware River

In past years I canoed the Upper Delaware River more frequently. It is the mountain river supreme with pristine water, gorgeous scenery, great whitewater, and it's often overrun by urban tourists. I plan to spend at least a few days up there this year, perhaps as early as this Wednesday and Thursday.

There are many threats both real and potential looming in the Upper Delaware River including the proposed electric transmission line that could defile the scenic river valley, proliferation of invasive species such as Japanese Knotweed, the town of Deposit dumping raw (chlorinated) sewage from their flood damaged sewage treatment facility and of course flooding in general. At the end of this post I have included a newspaper article from the Wayne Independent that covers flooding issues related to reservoir management. It's worth a read, but first some background on the Upper Delaware River.

Most of the Upper Delaware River is a component of the National Wild and Scenic River System (designated in 1978) and the Upper Delaware Council (UDC) is the oversight body responsible for the coordinated implementation of the River Management Plan for the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River.

Voting members on the UDC are the State of New York, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and eleven local governments (New York towns and Pennsylvania townships) that border on the Upper Delaware River. The Delaware River Basin Commission is a non-voting member of the Council. The UDC operates under contract with the National Park Service for the oversight, coordination, and implementation of the River Management Plan.

The Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River extends some 73.4 river miles from the confluence of the East and West Branches of the Delaware River, downstream from Hancock, New York, to Railroad Bridge No. 2 near Mill Rift, Pennsylvania. It forms the border between the States of New York and Pennsylvania.

The legislation for management of the Upper Delaware differed from the way most other units of the National Wild and Scenic River System are managed by the National Park Service, most of which are federally owned lands (national parks or national recreation areas). The middle Delaware River is an example of a federally owned and managed wild and scenic river (Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area).

Most of the land in the Upper Delaware River corridor remains in private ownership. Federal authority is limited to the river itself as well as a few properties under National Park Service lease or ownership. The Upper Delaware River was among the first so-called "private lands" or "partnership" rivers, as it flows primarily through privately-owned land.

Note that the Lower Delaware National Wild and Scenic River is similar in that it is overwhelmingly a private lands river corridor (NPS is forbidden under the designation legislation to own and manage the river corridor lands). Unlike the Upper Delaware River the NPS does not even have any regulatory authority on the water in the Lower Delaware W&S River. That responsibility remains with the states (NJ and PA).

UDC to Keep Eye on Lake Wallenpaupack Releases

UPPER DELAWARE - Concerns about the water released from Lake Wallenpaupack during the June flood spilled over to Thursday night's Upper Delaware Council (UDC) session in Narrowsburg.

While the UDC approved a letter expressing desire to see the larger New York City reservoirs on the Upper Delaware be used for flood protection, more of the discussion focused on PP&L's Lake Wallenpaupack. The latter also empties into the Delaware by way of the Wallenpaupack Creek and Lackawaxen River.

Record setting levels on the Upper Delaware were set by the extended storm of June 24-28. It was the third major storm in two years sending the Delaware and its tributaries over their banks, crumbling infrastructure and threatening or claiming life and property. The others were in September 2004 and April 2005. Over 15 inches of rain fell in some areas.

Larry Richardson, UDC's representative for the Town of Cochecton, urged that the Council focus more attention on Lake Wallenpaupack and releases PPL allows, as UDC did when PPL was pursuing renewal of their federal permit to operate the hydroelectric plant served by the lake.

The UDC was represented at a public meeting July 19th held by PPL at the PPL Environmental Learning Center, where approximately 75 people gathered to discuss the flood release and PPL policies. Gary Petrewski of PPL offered an hour long presentation, followed by a lengthy and sometimes heated question and answer period.

At 3:30 a.m. on June 28, PPL opened the dam's spill gates and let out up to 60,000 gallons per second into the Wallenpaupack Creek. Pressure from the water squeezed ground water, which seeped into residents' basements. Thomas Zeterburg of Lackawaxen and a member of the Pike County Planning Commission, was especially pointed, referring to PP&L's operation of the dam as a “weapon of mass destruction” which tore out trees and guard rails, and damaged historic structures in the village of Lackawaxen.

Stephen Barnes, Town of Highland, asked at the UDC meeting why the electrical utility did not release water gradually over the several days when the storm was forecast, rather than letting it out all at once with such destructive force. He echoed comments made at the July 19th meeting.

At the PPL meeting, Petrewski replied that the National Weather Service did not predict the severity of the storm which actually occurred. Reducing the lake's water level, he said, could hurt the recreational and environmental value to the area. Petrewski said that the release was necessary because the lake level had reached the top of the dam, and to allow it to spill over could compromise the integrity of the dam and lead to worse damage.

PPL officials agreed they were willing to work with local governments to change the priorities of the company's interests and prevent flood damage in the future. PPL had released water during the major storm in April of 2005, which did damage to the railroad trestle at Hawley and other points downstream.

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) utilizes Lake Wallenpaupack as part of their drought plan. Comments made at the recent UDC Project Review Committee meeting advised that the DRBC take another look at the lake level program since the collection of extra water and then releasing it like this, has an impact on both the Lackawaxen and Delaware rivers.

UDC approved a letter to the New York City Department of Environmental protection, which owns and maintains the Cannonsville, Pepacton and Neversink reservoirs feeding the Upper Delaware, for water supply purposes. The letter again urged the City to find ways to better utilized dedicated voids in these three reservoirs; raise the levels of the spillways to make more storage room on top to accommodate more flood waters; and continue to work with agencies to reduce flood levels and their impacts.

The City has already set up a program for the Neversink and Pepacton under an agreement that resulted from past years' flood damage.

Also in the letter, the UDC expressed encouragement about a new source of technical assistance and funding which the Philadelphia District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was recently awarded. The $1 million of federal funds will allow a study of ways to better manage water resources in the Delaware River Basin. Issues to be looked at include long-term sufficiency of water, long-term flow management, flood mitigation and providing timely and easily accessible information to the public. The study was to start in July 2006 and is to be finished by September 2007.

The City is also asked to examine various reservoir-void scenarios showing their impacts below the reservoirs.

At the July 19th DRBC meeting in Trenton, National Weather Service officials said the existence of these reservoirs- including Lake Wallenpaupack- kept the flood from being worse. Without them, the crest of the Delaware River may have been one to 2.5 feet higher.

A U.S, Geological Survey report also contends that it was the major rainfall, not increased land development, which led to the flooding in the Upper Delaware. Between 1973 and 2000, development increased by less than half of one percent of the lands of the Poconos and Catskills, and much of the land is still primarily forest.

The UDC meets on the first Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the their offices on Bridge Street, Narrowsburg, NY. The UDC offices may be reached at (845)252-3022.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Forty-nine wiser Girl Scouts

Now that the 2006 Camp DeWitt programs have come to an end it's time to reflect on some highlights and lowlights, although there were very few of the later.

There are now 49 more young people who have a newfound appreciation for the river, indeed for all rivers. They will never again look at a river the same way most people do, as a mere body of water that flows under bridges and is host to fish and frogs.

On Wednesday and Thursday we only covered 4.1 miles each day between Kellers Landing and Kingwood access. That is long enough considering they were paddling rafts. Each day the scouts were treated to extraordinary wildlife sightings including osprey (2), great blue heron (many), kingfishers, cormorants, eastern brown water snake, and yesterday, a surprise appearance of one mature bald eagle that flew out of the trees just below Milford, NJ.

I brought along the kick seine net and we conducted sampling for macroinvertebrates in the rocks and gravel of a small tributary, as well as in the river itself. The girls learned that every square foot of the river bottom (and every healthy stream) is teeming with life including shrimp (scuds), the larvae of a variety of insects such as mayfly, dragonfly and caddisfly, snails, clams, mussels, Johnny Darters and so much more. Both groups were hesitant at first but it took all of 30 seconds for them to become fascinated by what we found in the net, so much so that they begged to do more sampling. Now the girls know that rivers and creeks are complex systems where the larger organisms such as birds and fish are completely dependent upon the tiny creatures that comprise the bottom of the food chain. Many of these smaller organisms can only survive in clean water.

The scouts were amazed by the degree of trash along the river banks and were curious about the recent flooding. It was difficult for them to imagine that little over a month ago the river was twenty-five feet over their heads, but the proof could been seen in the trees where lawn chairs and other items were snagged during the flood.

The only lowlight was the intense heat and humidity, and frequent dips in the water provided a degree of relief, along with copious consumption of water and Gatorade. Once again thanks to Dee Keller of Kellers Landing for providing a great teaching environment and river access, Hank and Bunny Snyder of Lazy River Adventures for supplying boats and equipment, and Joe Pylka for helping me guide the trips.

Speaking of trash, river cleanups are being planned for September 16 and September 23. Details to follow.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

From Almost Heaven to Hades -- via the Pennsylvania Turnpike

Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge is the highest east of the Mississippi River, says the US Fish & Wildlife Service. It is also the nation's newest, established back in the first term of President Clinton.

The Parsons Family Reunion has taken place at the farm of Cecil and Virginia Parsons since the 1970's. The valley floor is around 3200' and surrounding mountains are over 4000' which is fairly high for the Appalachian Mountain. The valley is headwaters of the Blackwater River, tributary to the Cheat River, which runs into the Monongahela River, Ohio River, Missississississississippi River and Gulf of Mexico. Just over the mountain the North Fork of the South Branch Potomac River flows towards the Chesapeake Bay. Male bass are producing eggs in this watershed. Really! Go here to check it out.

The weather was typical for the western slopes of the Allegheny Mountains of Tucker County, which still only has one traffic light. The thermometer never passed 78 f. These folks average close to 130 inches snow per year.

And it's back to the Delaware River just in time for this outrageous heatwave and the last two Camp DeWitt girl scout river trips. I will be out on the river Wednesday and Thursday and each evening expect to be completely fried, especially my brains, which will be even more scrambled than usual.

Therefore the next post will appear Friday, August 4.