The National Weather Service (NWS) was in Owego, N.Y. on Sept 10 to announce a new application that they hope will aid municipal planners, emergency responders, and the public should a flood again threaten Owego.
Funded with $500,000 secured by Senator Tom Libous after the 2006 flood, the Weather Service with the Susquehanna River Basin Commission and US Geological Service unveiled a satellite map that graphically displays flooding levels at different heights along the Susquehanna River. The map covers Owego from the Hickories Park highway access bridge west to the Price Chopper Plaza, through the Flats bordering Gere Street.
The reason the whole of the village is not depicted, according to NWS Service Hydrologist Jim Brewster, lies in two limitations to the flood model used to prepare the map. First, Owego Creek complicates mapping to the point it breaks down as the creek tries to flow into a flooding Susquehanna. Tioga County Director of Emergency Management Richard LeCount said the Owego Creek begins to back up when the river goes into a moderate flood stage, around 30 feet deep.
Brewster said that to the East, the Susquehanna River gage at Owego used to create the inundation map becomes inaccurate at the Hickories Park Bridge due to distance from the gage. While there are limitations, the map created for the village is very accurate.
Brewster envisions business owners using the inundation map to make decisions should a flood be forecast. By looking at the map business owners can see what a 32-foot crest would mean for their interests.
By going to www.weather.gov/bgm and moving the mouse over the ‘Rivers and Lakes’ tab above the regional map, a drop down reveals a menu. Clicking on ‘Flood Inundation Maps’ directs you to a selection of green dots on a detail map.
Each green dot represents an area mapped by the NWS project, Brewster said. Click on the green dot labeled Owego, and a satellite map appears. Brewster pointed out the options on the left, which give several ways of seeing the flood inundation overlays.
The record 2011 flood crested at 39.62 feet, and by clicking on the 39.3-foot selection you see where the waters reached three years ago. Lesser amounts are available, from minor flooding at 29 feet through the 2011 record. There is also an option to see the current flood forecast.
By using the map, everyone can see what to expect during a forecast flood, Brewster explained. Thus the business owner can tell if they need to evacuate customers, move inventory, or will be safe from flood waters. Emergency services personnel can determine exactly which neighborhoods and houses need to be evacuated, as well as people who are paying attention to the weather forecast.
With a new motto to create a ‘Weather Ready Nation,’ LeCount was enthusiastic about the new maps. An informed public make Emergency Management’s job easier, with prepared people ready to evacuate if needed. Refrigerator magnets were given out with spaces for filling in the gage number in Owego, Hydrologic Unit 02050103. That will guide the user to information about river levels at Owego, and an option to receive text, email, or other alerts of imminent flooding at the gage.
“Know your number,” LeCount said, “keep track of what’s going on and know your gage number.”
Magnets with website information and spaces for the river gage number and flood stage, 29 feet, are available at the Owego Pennysaver office located at 181-183 Front St. in Owego. Magnets are also available at the Owego Town Hall, State Route 434, Owego.