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Wet Summer Poses Potential Flood Problems

July 2004

By Jim Brewster, Binghamton National Weather Service

Jim Brewster It is pretty much obvious these days that just about all of central New York and northeast Pennsylvania has experienced a downright soggy summer, in what is normally the driest part of the year.

In the last three months, we have averaged about 3 to 5 inches above normal rainfall over a large part of the Twin Tiers and Western Catskills with some areas even showing up to 6 inches above normal. The Finger Lakes region and Western Mohawk Valley are also running about 125 to 150 percent above normal for this time of year.

Several communities have been battling repeat rounds of minor flash flooding from torrential thunderstorms, but we have been lucky that flooding has not been a major issue thus far for our large river systems. Heavy rain events have been, for the most part, localized and easily absorbed by lush green foliage and rivers that have been at normal levels.

As this damp July comes to a close, what is on the horizon? Many of us are hoping for a couple weeks of sunnier and warmer weather to help dry the area out a bit, but the reality is that we are heading toward peak tropical storm and hurricane season in the end of August and first half of September.

Why should we worry about hurricanes since we live hundreds of miles from the coast? Some people might think we are too far inland to suffer the dire consequences of a hurricane or tropical storm, and if images of pounding surf, high winds and whip-lashed palm trees are coming to mind, are then wondering why we should care about hurricanes in our region is a good question. But, history shows that Upstate New York and Pennsylvania are not immune to tropical events, particularly inland flooding from torrential, tropical rains.

In the last 30 years, inland flooding has caused more than half of the deaths associated with tropical storms and hurricanes in the United States. Fresh water flooding can be even more deadly and destructive than the strong winds and storm surges that typically batter the coast. This is especially true when the remnants of a tropical storm or hurricane interact with a frontal boundary or mountainous terrain, such as where we live.

How can you prepare to protect yourself, your family and your property from the ravages of flooding?

One way is to remember that each year, most people killed by floodwaters meet that end because they attempt to drive across flooded roadways in their cars or trucks. Flash flooding took about 10 lives in our area during 2003, most in vehicles. It takes a surprisingly few inches of water to cause a car or truck to lose control and just a few inches more to float a vehicle downstream. Don't take a chance with your life or the lives of your loved ones. If you encounter a flooded road, remember this: Turn Around, Don't Drown.

It does not matter if the car ahead of you made it across. The water could be high enough to float your vehicle or the road itself may be undermined or washed away.

If you have any further questions about flood safety or inland flooding from hurricanes send an e-mail to

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