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Experts discuss flood of ’06

By : Katie Ellis

All flood events are a complex mix of hydrology, meteorology and floodplain usage issues and the flood of 2006 was no different, said Burrell Montz, professor and director of graduate studies in geography and a panelist at last week’s critical issues forum sponsored by the Harpur Forum.

The audience heard from Montz, meteorologist David Nicosia and Peter Knuepfer, associate professor of geology and director of the environmental studies program, about why the flood occurred, how the community was warned, how 2006 flooding compared to floods in 1935 and 1972 and what measures might alleviate major damage from future floods.

Nicosia, a National Weather Service meteorologist, is the warning coordinator for weather emergencies. It’s his job to monitor weather patterns and warn the public when dangerous weather conditions are present. A stalled high-pressure system and moisture-laden winds out of the tropics set the stage for June’s floods, he said.

“This was historic rainfall and it all ended up in the river,” he said, noting that Binghamton received 5 to 7 inches of rain and 8 inches fell upstream. He conducted hourly briefings for local agencies and emergency services personnel, issuing more than 100 flash-flood warnings at the height of the flooding.

Knuepfer put the size of the flood into context with past floods, using data gathered from National Weather Service gauging stations.

“They tell us how high the water is at various points so we can estimate how much water is moving and how high it will be downstream,” he said.

Some areas were hit harder than others, in part because the Chenango River was not a big contributor of water downstream. He categorized the flooding in the Conklin area as that of a 550-year flood. Water in Conklin crested 5 feet higher than its previous peak of 20.83 feet in 1936. In Vestal, water crested three feet above its previous high of 30.5 feet, comparable to that of a 250-year flood, Knuepfer said.

Those terms describe the estimated probability of a flood happening in any given year rather than the likely number of years between such events. A 100-year flood, for instance, has a 1 percent probability of happening in a particular year.

Montz said that in the past, people built levees and other structures to keep water away.

“These are very effective prevention measures up to the design level, and we would have many more small floods without them,” she said. “In fact, they were effective for this flood as well. None of them failed or broke.”

However, she added that such structures provide a false sense of security. “We’re beginning to recognize that the technological approach is very effective up to a certain level, but we have to add the behavioral approach — the comprehensive planning mode that considers zoning, insurance, flood proofing and relocation as well,” she said. “If flooding is a problem, maybe we should move out of the flood plain.”
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Last Updated: 10/14/08