Ice ‘bottleneck’

From flooding concerns to icy roads, Warren County is on weather watch

Times Observer photo by Stacey Gross Ron Smith, who lives just off Route 59 where this flooding occurs yearly, looks over the ice jam that’s backing up the water onto his property on Friday.

Today might be a good day to get out the Johnny Cash records.

The water in area streams and waterways is rising, and is expected to continue to do so until 7 p.m. Saturday, when the flood watch issued for Warren County, among several other counties in central Pennsylvania, expires.

According to the National Weather Service in State College, rapidly rising stream and river levels may lead to a breakup of ice, causing localized ice jam flooding as the ice collects at constrictions. The most susceptible areas, according to the watch, are bridges or bends in the river, where ice jams clog the flow and cause water to back up onto land.

That’s precisely what was happening at the home of Ron Smith and his wife Tenna Friday morning. The place where Morrison Run and Browns Run come together, at the sharp curve in Kinzua Road just before Brown Run Road was the site of an ice jam Friday morning that Mead Township resident Ron Smith says is an ongoing problem.

“I’ve lived here 20 years,” said Smith, pointing at the ice backed up at the bridge crossing Kinzua Road over Morrison Run Friday. “For 12 out of those 20 years, flooding has been a problem. The last three years in a row have been bad.”

The problem, according to Smith, is that the run needs to be dug out on both sides, and the ice needs to be broken up.

Amanda Frederick, of the Warren County Conservation District, said what Smith is referring to, a process called dredging, is something that the WCCD doesn’t do.

“We can provide technical assistance, best practices, information on how to protect your home from flooding,” said Frederick. “Dredging is something that requires Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) permitting, and is the landowner’s responsibility.”

At this particular spot, which is considered a flood plain, said Frederick, even if dredging were to occur, “it will refill.” Just based on the way the area is situated, with water coming down into the run from above, the stream bed and the surrounding area is the way that it is naturally. “At the end of the day,” said Frederick, “it’s nature.”

And, said Frederick, when an area experiences extremely cold temperatures followed by rapid thawing, ice jams are the natural result. Another factor at this particular spot, said Frederick, is that the soil, being in a naturally swampy area, is “extremely hydric. The water isn’t going to infiltrate anything. The soil isn’t going to soak anything up. It’s saturated.”

Mead Township Supervisor Alan Fox said that the issue is that “we’ve got a bottleneck here.”

Investigation on Friday morning did lead Frederick and bystanders to see that a gas line, consisting of two steel pipes, was the ultimate issue causing constriction, because ice flowing from Morrison into Brown Run had gotten caught up there and continued to trap the ice flowing from behind it. The bridge itself is a potential constriction point as well, said Frederick, but if the ice were able to flow freely over the pipes at the mouth of the run, the bridge wouldn’t be backed up.

“After reviewing the status of the flooding and ice buildup, and considering that another freeze cycle was projected to start in the evening which would make the problems worse, the County Commissioners declared the situation an emergency and contacted a local company, Fox and Sons Excavating of Clarendon, to break the ice buildup,” said Commissioner Jeff Eggleston. “Fox and Sons’ Dana Hennessy delivered an excavator and proceeded to push and remove the ice around the small bridge on Route 59 and the surrounding properties.”

Eggleston went on to say that, “this was an act of prevention, for as bad as the flooding was, if the water and ice were allowed to further freeze and thaw there was the possibility of severe flooding and property damage.” He added that the county will be reviewing conditions on Morrison Run, “in order to mitigate flooding that may occur as we experience these dramatic freeze thaw cycles winter-to-winter. Our intention is to add it to our Hazard Mitigation Plan and work on ways to minimize the libatilites certain factors on the creek present.”

“You have a flood watch and a winter storm watch up there,” National Weather Service Meteorologist Craig Evanego said Thursday afternoon.

“The main concern is ice jams on rivers and creeks,” Evanego said.

On Friday, roads were shut down all over the county.

Late Friday night, the following roads remain closed:

¯ Route 3009 (Tidioute Creek Road) is closed from Grant Street in Tidioute Borough to Karney Road in Triumph Township.

¯ Route 3014 (Kane Road) is closed from Route 27 to Coal Hill Road in Pittsfield Township.

¯ Route 4001 (Piccadilly Hill Road/Scotts Crossing Road/ Sample Flats Road) is closed from Route 426 in Columbus Township to Spencer Road/Grand Army to the Republic Highway in Columbus Township.

According to PennDOT, the following roads were closed on Friday but reopened later in the evening.

¯ Route 2004 (Horton Avenue) in Sheffield Township in Warren County.

¯ Route 1033 (Teepleville Road/New Richmond Road) in Athens and Richmond townships, Crawford County.

¯ Route 1003 (Blue Jay Creek Road) in Howe Township, Forest County.

Road information us available at penndot.gov.

PennDOT urges motorists to be alert to water on roadways, obey warning signs and traffic control devices, and never drive through flooding or standing water on roads. Shallow, swiftly flowing water can wash a car from a roadway. Also, the roadbed may not be intact under the water.

Motorists can check conditions on more than 40,000 roadway miles, including color-coded winter conditions on 2,900 miles, by visiting www.511PA.com. 511PA, which is free and available 24 hours a day, provides traffic delay warnings, weather forecasts, traffic speed information and access to more than 825 traffic cameras.

511PA is also available through a smartphone application for iPhone and Android devices, by calling 5-1-1, or by following regional Twitter alerts accessible on the 511PA website. Follow PennDOT on Twitter at www.twitter.com/511PAErie.

Evanego said temperatures would start to fall through Friday, and the rain will turn into a “wintry mix” and eventually to snow.

The winter storm watch was upgraded to a warning Thursday evening. That warning runs from 4 p.m. Friday through early Saturday.

All after school activities were cancelled in Warren County School District for Friday and Saturday, with the exception of the PMEA District 2 Band Festival, which will now be held at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Warren Area High School.

Jan. 12 was also the date last year the county experienced flooding and road closures after temperature increases.

COMMENTS