By Alex Sosnowski, Expert Senior Meteorologist for AccuWeather.com
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (September 8, 2011)—AccuWeather.com reports the worst flooding since Agnes in 1972 is just beginning in the valley of the Susquehanna, forcing hundreds of thousands from their homes in Pennsylvania and New York.
Over a foot of rain has fallen in some areas, and the rain is still falling. It is possible flood levels will eclipse those of 1972.
The fire hose of tropical downpours held steady Wednesday and Wednesday night, too steadily for the Susquehanna River, its tributaries and others to handle.
Water levels on these rivers will challenge record heights, which include those of the first billion-dollar disaster for the U.S.: Hurricane Agnes. Lee and its remnants will be the latest.
These are the projected levels and current records for key points along the Susquehanna River:
- Wilkes-Barre, Pa: 40.7 feet / 40.9 feet June 1972
- Harrisburg, Pa.: 29.0 feet / 32.6 feet June 1972
- Binghamton, N.Y.: 26.0 feet / 24.4 feet June 2006
In Luzerne County, Pa. alone, 65,000 people are under mandatory evacuation orders. Essentially, officials are saying that people in areas evacuated/flooded during Agnes are being told to leave.
Upstream and downstream on the Susquehanna from New York state to Maryland, it is the same story.
If you are told to leave, do so. Do not drive through flooded roadways. We have reports of people drowning in Lancaster County this morning. One person was swept away by water only 1.5 feet deep. Another person was trapped inside a vehicle that was overtaken by rising waters.
The American Red Cross has opened multiple shelters in Luzerne, Wyoming, Susquehanna, Bradford and Sullivan counties in Pennsylvania for those displaced by the rising waters.
Massive levees along the Susquehanna in much of Wyoming Valley, Pa. protect cities including Wilkes-Barre, Kingston and Forty Fort from water levels up to 41 feet. However, if more rain continues to feed up from the south over the Susquehanna watershed, it is possible the projected crests could be pushed higher.
The extremely rare training-effect rain event lasting for such a long period was re-forming over much of the same area Thursday after a brief jog to the east during the early morning hours.
Other bands of rain will form as the day progresses, which can lead to catastrophic flooding in yet more places that have escaped the worst of the situation thus far. This includes part of the New York and Philadelphia metro areas involving the Schuylkill and Passaic rivers.
Getting to shelters or coming to the aid of friends and family could be difficult, as hundreds of roads, including major highways, were closed due to rising waters. If you cannot get to a shelter, seek out a friend or neighbor on high ground.
The flooding along the Susquehanna and other rivers has closed portions of interstates 80 and 81, the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the Schuylkill Expressway, Route 322, and other main thoroughfares. It is likely that some of these highways will remain closed through the weekend.
The possibility of many of these major roads remaining closed into the weekend is high, which will impact weekend travel plans, such as for football.