Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday urged New Yorkers to prepare for possible ice jam flooding as temperatures across the state will rise this week and throughout the upcoming spring season. At Cuomo's direction, state agencies are monitoring areas that typically experience ice jam formations and response assets are ready and available to assist local governments in preventing and mitigating flooding and ice jam damage.
"This is the time of year when a spate of rising temperatures can dislodge ice jams on rivers and streams, causing flooding for local communities and damaging homes and property," Cuomo said. "While ice jam flooding is hard to predict with much precision, our state agencies are monitoring New York's problematic areas and preparing assets to assist local governments in case of a major event."
Most locations across the state will see the highest temperatures of the year as warm air will push in on Wednesday and last until Friday. Highs will range from the high 50s to low 60s across much of the state over the three-day period. Meteorologists anticipate the melting snow could reach rainfall equivalents ranging from 1 to 3 inches in localized areas, and a storm is expected to bring rain across much of the state late Thursday into Friday.
Local governments should contact the Department of Environmental Conservation for assistance with permits necessary to do work removing ice jams. DEC is working in coordination with the Department of Transportation, which has begun deploying excavators throughout the state to break up any potential ice jams as temperatures rise. For equipment requests and other assistance, local governments should contact their county emergency manager who processes requests through the “New York Responds” system. Residents in areas prone to ice jam flooding should take precautions and monitor local weather forecasts for changing conditions.
Ice jams occur when pieces of floating ice obstruct the flow of a river or stream, causing flooding downstream or upstream. Water held back by ice obstructions can cause flooding upstream. Melting ice jams due to warming temperatures can cause flooding downstream, and it's these types of jams that usually cause the most severe flooding. Flash flooding and ice jams can lead to significant property damage and even the destruction of homes in extreme cases.
A flood watch has been issued by the National Weather Service for Erie County and remains in effect from today until Friday morning due to ice jam accumulations on the Cazenovia Creek and Buffalo River. For a complete listing of weather watches, warnings, advisories and latest forecasts, visit the NWS website.
Ice anglers should also take caution and follow safety precautions as warming temperatures can produce varying conditions on water bodies.
Next week is Flood Awareness Week in New York, an annual NWS campaign that underscores the risks associated with flooding so individuals can better protect their families, businesses and communities from this type of natural disaster. Individuals and their families can learn how to prepare for various hazards, including flooding, by taking New York state's online Citizens Preparedness Corps training class, which is now available with subtitles in seven different languages.
•Department of Environmental Conservation: Prior to the anticipated thaw, the DEC encourages municipal officials to immediately undertake local assessments of potential ice jams in flood-prone areas and to remove any debris. DEC permits and authorization are not required to remove debris unless stream banks or beds will be disturbed by debris removal and/or the use of heavy equipment. Municipalities and local governments are advised to contact DEC's regional permit administrators if assistance is required or to help determine if a permit is necessary.
In the event of an emergency, DEC stands ready to approve emergency authorizations to expedite approval of projects in place of an individual permit, and generally these authorizations can be issued within 24 hours. DEC approves emergency authorizations for situations deemed an emergency based on the immediate protection of life, health, general welfare, property or natural resources. Additional information is available on the DEC website here. Emergency authorizations are issued with suitable conditions to protect the environment.
DEC continues to work with partner agencies and localities throughout the state to respond to flooding and ice jams. DEC is deploying drones to assist with the assessment of potential ice jams. DEC experts are identifying flood-prone areas, including creeks and streams, where snowmelt and rain could cause damaging flooding. DEC is monitoring stream level forecasts and flood gauges on creeks, streams and rivers to assess flooding risks and respond to potential flooding that would activate any of the 106 flood control projects DEC maintains and operates across New York. In addition, DEC is monitoring wastewater treatment plants throughout the state based on risk conditions, and staff is ready to respond to any emergencies caused by flooding.
For additional information about resources for local officials and emergency managers, visit the DEC website here.
•New York Power Authority | Canal Corp.: The New York State Canal Corp., a subsidiary of the New York Power Authority, deployed ice-breaking tugboats as part of a pilot program through the “Reimagine the Canals” initiative since December on the Erie Canal and Mohawk River in Schenectady County. These tugs routinely break sheet ice between Lock E-7 in Niskayuna and Lock E-8 in Rotterdam to keep a channel of the river free from ice. In addition, the Canal Corp. deployed a new Watermaster Amphibious Dredger to aid the tugs in churning and moving ice downstream near the Vischer Ferry Dam. These expanded ice-breaking efforts are being performed in anticipation of increased river flows and ice movement to potentially reduce ice jam formation in the Schenectady area.
The Canal Corp. continues to communicate with hydropower entities and emergency managers along the state canal system regarding changes in releases and conditions as well as developing hazards. While all opportunities to reduce ice jam and flooding potential are being deployed, residents in low-lying areas should remain vigilant as potential ice jams and flooding are still possible.
•Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services: The New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services' emergency operations center remains activated due to the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to closely monitor weather conditions. It remains ready to coordinate state response operations to assist localities in an emergency. Stockpiles are prepared to deploy assets to localities to support any storm-related needs, including pumps, chainsaws, sandbags, generators, cots, blankets and bottled water.
•Department of Transportation: New York State Department of Transportation staff is on alert and working with state and local partners to respond to any flooding impacts immediately. Department staff actively monitors known problem areas and takes action as necessary to mitigate flooding. The DOT has strategically staged seven long-reach excavators throughout the state to help mitigate ice jam impacts as temperatures rise.
Motorists are advised to check 511NY by downloading the mobile app before traveling. The free service allows users to check road conditions and features a winter travel advisory system with real-time travel reports and a color-coded map indicating which state roads are clear, wet or snow-covered. The system provides motorists with a resource to determine if travel is advisable.
•Thruway Authority: Thruway Authority staffers are actively inspecting drainage systems and monitoring for potential flooding. They are prepared to respond to any flooding issues statewide with more than 688 operators and supervisors, small to medium-sized excavators, plow/dump trucks, large loaders, and a number of portable VMS boards, portable light towers, smaller generators, smaller pumps and equipment hauling trailers, as well as signage and other traffic control devices available for any detours or closures.
The Thruway Authority encourages motorists to download its mobile app, which is available to download for free on iPhone and Android devices. The app provides motorists direct access to real-time traffic and navigation assistance while on the go.
Motorists can also sign up for TRANSalert emails, which provide the latest traffic conditions along the thruway. For real-time updates, motorists can follow @ThruwayTraffic on Twitter or by visiting www.thruway.ny.gov to see an interactive map showing live traffic feeds, traffic conditions for the thruway and other state roadways.
•New York State Police: State Troopers will monitor rivers and streams prone to ice jams and flooding. Troopers are ready to be deployed in case flooding occurs. All four-wheel drive vehicles are in service, and snowmobiles, utility task vehicles and boats are ready for deployment as needed.
Below are flood preparation safety tips from the governor’s office:
√ Learn the safest route from your home or business to high, safe ground should you have to leave in a hurry.
√ Develop and practice a “family escape” plan and identify a meeting place if family members become separated.
√ Make an itemized list – as well as potentially photo and video documentation – of all valuables, including furnishings, clothing and other personal property. Keep the list in a safe place.
√ Stockpile emergency supplies of canned food, medicine and first-aid supplies and drinking water. Store drinking water in clean, closed containers
√ Plan what to do with your pets.
√ Have a portable radio, flashlights, extra batteries and emergency cooking equipment available.
√ Keep your automobile fueled. If electric power is cut off, gasoline stations may not be able to pump fuel for several days. Have a small disaster supply kit in the trunk of your car.
√ Find out how many feet your property is above and below possible flood levels. When predicted flood levels are broadcast, you can determine if you may be flooded.
√ Keep materials like sandbags, plywood, plastic sheeting and lumber handy for emergency waterproofing.
√ Check on your insurance coverage. Homeowners' insurance policies generally do not cover flood damages. Only flood insurance can protect a home against flood damages. One can purchase flood insurance whether or not they live in a mapped flood zone.
√ For a complete list of weather terms and preparation ideas before during and after a flood, visit the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services website here.