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Icy river being watched
for flooding potential

By Duane Good, EDITOR

The Susquehanna River at Millersburg March 2. (Sentinel photo by Duane Good)

As March begins, the Susquehanna River remains under a sheet of ice, the product of a month of largely subfreezing temperatures.

How long it remains that way is anyone's guess.

‘‘It definitely has our attention,’’ said Ben Pratt of the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, a Harrisburg-based organization that monitors the river’s overall health and  flooding potential.

‘‘For the time being, the ice isn’t going anywhere,’’ he said late last week. ‘‘Our biggest concern now is how the weather is going to behave.’’

According to Pratt, the Susquehanna not only is ‘‘locked up pretty tight’’ up and down the basin, but a snowpack is present as well, ranging anywhere from 1 to 5 inches in depth, depending on the region.

Conditions are "fairly similar" to March 1996, when temperatures quickly rose above freezing and remained there, Pratt said. Higher temperatures were joined by significant rainfall and winds. That combination caused the river ice and the snowpack to melt quickly, leading to flooding throughout the basin of both the Susquehanna and its tributaries.

‘‘We saw a ‘perfect storm’ in 1996,’’ Pratt said. ‘‘What we’re hoping to see this year is everything melting down slowly. For the time being, we wait and watch.’’

In addition to the flooding potential, the commission is concerned that people will assume the sustained freezing temperatures have frozen the river solid.

‘‘Just looking at it can be deceiving. There are places where the ice isn't as thick,’’ Pratt said. ‘‘We’re encouraging people to stay off the ice. They’re risking their own physical well-being, as well as that of the first responders who have to rescue them.’’


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