In the aftermath of the recent record-breaking cold weather, ice has built up on the Susquehanna River. Now there’s a concern of flooding.
Experts say we haven’t seen ice conditions like this in Central Pennsylvania in years. “In 1996 there was a very significant ice jam that flooded the basin and at that time a plan was not in place. It created a very bad situation,” said Ben Pratt, a Hydraulic Engineer with the Susquehanna River Basin Commission. “A communications plan was not in place and it created some pretty concerning situations. They didn’t have any time to react to a surge flow,” said Pratt.
Since then an ice communication plan has been created. The Susquehanna River Basin Commission works with the National Weather Service and other organizations. “We have a communications plan where we coordinate with the hydroelectric facilities in the lower Susquehanna. We can provide advanced flood warning and ice observing for communities around the river,” said Pratt.
Now, Pratt is focusing on the Harrisburg area, mainly in Middletown where an ice jam has backed up part of the Swatara Creek. With the river near flood stage, according to forecasters, minor flooding could occur in that area. “We expect a warmup which could be good news or bad news,” said Pratt. He said the river is expected to start dropping soon which could save the area from major flooding. “Ice is always a very unpredictable animal. As the ice moves it can exacerbate the problem and jams can form. So it’s really just a condition that needs to be monitored. A concern is, we have rain coming through on the Susquehanna basin on Saturday and Sunday which could bring the river up,” said Pratt. He said they will continue to monitor conditions over the next couple days.
“We have a volume of water sitting above these dams. We hope it will be a slow release, it will melt and sort of trickle out and it won’t be a quick release. Which would create a surge flow which would have to be managed. A surge flow coming down through the dam, they would need to manage either by opening the gates or other methods,” said Pratt. “We’re interested in making sure that everybody stays safe and interests along the river are protected.”
To take a look at the ice conditions East Coast Helicopters pilot Garrett Fronk took FOX43 high into the sky to see nature at work. From the Safe Harbor Dam in Lancaster County all the way to Harrisburg.
Aerial video over Safe Harbor Dam:
Aerial video over Susquehanna River:
Amazing aerial photos of Susquehanna River: