With completion of a new interactive online map years in the making, Wyoming Valley area residents can now see if their property would flood as the Susquehanna River rises.
The map is available through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s NWS Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service at https://water.weather.gov/ahps/inundation.php, using the “Susquehanna River at Wilkes-Barre” link under the Binghamton, New York, section.
After enlarging and zeroing in on the area of interest, users must select a Susquehanna River level from a table on the left, ranging from 10 feet to an unsettling maximum option of 46.5 feet.
For reference, the menu of levels notes the river’s record crest at 42.66 feet in 2011, when the Wyoming Valley Levee held back floodwaters in 12 municipalities it is designed to protect while low-lying areas in non-levee municipalities were inundated.
With each river level, the inundation area is shaded in blue. Clicking on the property will show how high the floodwaters would be at that location under each scenario.
The maps start at 10 feet in the Wyoming Valley because that’s when officials start activating levee system pumps, officials have said.
While longtime residents may be familiar with the river’s path up to the 2011 level, the map will be helpful to newcomers, said county Flood Protection Authority Executive Director Christopher Belleman.
The need for more public awareness became apparent during a mass evacuation in 2011, when it was unclear if the levee would hold, officials have said. The raised levee was designed to protect properties that had been inundated in the prior record 1972 Agnes Flood, but some were unsure if the evacuation applied to them because they were not here back then.
The map can help residents make decisions on moving vehicles and personal belongings to higher ground, Belleman said.
“Instead of having to rely on waiting to hear from local emergency management on what people should do, they can be proactive and go to this website tool to see how a forecasted event would impact them,” Belleman said.
The flood authority had voted in 2017 to pay $3,200 toward the mapping project, saying the federal government would provide the lion’s share of the estimated $349,000 in funding.
The Harrisburg-based Susquehanna River Basin Commission developed the tool in partnership with Pennsylvania Silver Jackets, according to a public release.
Silver Jackets is an inter-agency team that works with the state and other stakeholders to implement solutions to flood hazards. The commission is a federal/interstate government agency focused on protecting and wisely managing water resources within the river basin.
The map covers shows where minor and major flooding would occur in and around Luzerne County along with points in Sunbury, Bloomsburg and Danville, commission water resources engineer Ben Pratt said in the release.
”It’s a valuable tool for community officials and emergency managers to plan and prepare for an impending flood, as well as provide the general public an understanding of the relative risk of flooding within their communities,” Pratt said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Weather Service and state and federal Emergency Management Agencies also were involved in the project.
Belleman said community awareness sessions will be scheduled to highlight the new map.
The new forecasting maps were based on a federal government water analysis completed after the 2011 record flooding that focused on the massive 10,000-square-mile watershed that drains into the local stretch of the Susquehanna, officials have said. The watershed extends into the Finger Lakes and Catskills in New York.
After studying 2011 high water marks and water drainage patterns, the federal government concluded development in the northern watershed was sending more runoff into the local stretch of the Susquehanna as sediment and other changes to the river channel have reduced its water holding capacity during peak flows, officials have said.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.