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Growing problem

Officials wary of ice jams while frigid temperatures build blocks

Tuesday, January 28, 2014
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Growing problem


Ice has begun to build up along the bend in the Mohawk River in Rexford, as seen looking east from Riverview Road.
Photographer: Marc Schultz
Ice has begun to build up along the bend in the Mohawk River in Rexford, as seen looking east from Riverview Road.

— Miles worth of ice on the Mohawk River made it past Amsterdam and Schenectady earlier this month when temperatures suddenly shifted from bitter to almost balmy.

But it didn’t get much farther than the winding section of the river in Rexford, where it still sits.

The National Weather Service and owners of hydroelectric facilities and other infrastructure, is keeping an eye on the river’s ice, which could either make its way down to the Hudson River or cause flooding upstream.

The river’s ice-laden path through Rexford Knolls is one of several spots being watched, said Britt Westergard, service hydrologist at the National Weather Services’s Albany forecast office.

“Certainly, the ice is building. We’ve had a nice, long period of below-freezing temperatures that’s allowing it to continue building,” she said.

Westergard said the National Weather Service has been in contact with Schenectady County emergency management officials.

“Certainly in Schenectady County, the Mohawk is one of our problem spots as far as ice goes and I know Schenectady County is keeping a close eye on that,” he said.

Schenectady County officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Fortunately, there’s no quick thaw or heavy rainfall in the forecast.

In a best-case scenario, a gradual warming trend could melt the ice slowly and it would pass to the Hudson River.

“The worst-case scenario is really a quick thaw followed by a heavy rainfall event,” Westergard said.

A thaw in addition to rainfall would bloat the Mohawk and trapped ice, or ice-jamming, could block the river’s flow and cause a backup in places such as Schenectady’s riverside Stockade neighborhood, which has seen the bulk of its flooding over the years caused by ice jams.

“I feel threatened and vulnerable,” said Stockade resident James E. Duggan, who recalls the first time his basement flooded due to an ice jam — Dec. 27, 1973.

Ice built up on the portion of the Mohawk River visible from the main General Electric plant off Interstate 890, Duggan said, then broke free all of a sudden.

The resultant flow, he said, caused a “miniature tsunami” and the water began flowing into Stockade streets within 20 minutes. Then, just as quickly, the water flowed away, Duggan said.

The current low flow of the Mohawk River is beneficial, he said, because there isn’t much water available to back up behind the ice.

“Give us several days in the 50s and some rain,” Duggan said. “As soon as that happens the river starts to rise. It starts to break up the ice and who knows where and how badly it will pile up.”

Authorities and managers with infrastructure on the river aren’t expecting any issues but are monitoring the situation.

Canada-based Brookfield Renewable Energy Group is among the entities operating hydroelectric facilities on the Mohawk River downstream of Lock E-7, which the ice hasn’t yet passed. Its School Street hydroelectric plant sits just downstream from Cohoes Falls.

“We’re aware of the ice buildup in other areas, some of which are more prone to it,” Brookfield spokesman Zev Kroman said in an email Tuesday. “While we don’t typically experience the same issue on the Mohawk, we will continue to monitor the situation.”

Westergard at the National Weather Service said the agency anticipates issuing a new winter/spring flood potential outlook after Feb. 6.

The current outlook considers the potential for snowmelt flooding to be “below normal” thanks to the amount of snow on the ground. The same is true for the potential for ice-jam flooding, because temperatures are expected to remain below normal through Feb. 6.

 
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