Video: Bearing down in the flood zone

  1. Closed captioning of: Bearing down in the flood zone

    >>> now to the brutal weather that everybody has had at least a piece of this winter, it seems. and it just keeps coming. in parts of the midwest, snow and lots of it. here in the northeast, this huge water pump of a storm taking up the entire eastern third of the country at one time. nbc's ron allen is with us from wayne, new jersey, tonight, with the fear of more flooding there. ron, good evening.

    >> reporter: good evening, brian. this is the passaic river , well out of its banks and rising during the course of the day. one reason so much of the state of new jersey faces a state of emergency , and why so many residents are trying to decide whether to stay or flee their homes.

    >> it's real pretty. there's green trees and there's plants and flowers around everybody's house.

    >> reporter: paula bush still sees the beauty in the neighborhood where she spent her entire life, even though a river now runs right through it.

    >> this used to be a family room when i was growing up here.

    >> reporter: her basement has two feet of water and floods almost every year. she's tried to sell, but can't find a buyer.

    >> who would be comfortable living like this? it's depressing. i mean, you know, it's depressing, but i mean what are you going to do? you make the best of what you have today.

    >> reporter: new jersey is not the only state under water. storms are drenching the northeast.

    >> those are flood warnings.

    >> big storm system off to our southwest.

    >> so the rain is going to continue.

    >> reporter: connecticut's pus tonic river hit 21 feet, the highest mark in 31 years.

    >> there's nothing to prep for at this point. there's nothing left to save so we're just going to wait it out.

    >> reporter: out of the midwest, even more severe weather . the weather channel 's mike seidel predicts record snow.

    >> we're expecting heavy wet snow across parts of ohio and pennsylvania all the way down into the southern appalachians. here in cleveland we're forecasting 6 to 10 inches. it's not unusual for it to snow here in march, but 10 inches is the average for the entire month.

    >> reporter: in new jersey, rescue teams rolled through water-logged streets, urging residents to evacuate, but not quipsing ray brimer.

    >> it's gotten as high where you can't walk. it would be over your head pretty much. so it's -- but i don't -- hopefully it won't get that high.

    >> reporter: people say the water has been higher than that bridge back there. brian.

    >> all right, ron allen in wayne, new jersey, looking at another long night there. ron,

updated 3/10/2011 7:19:43 PM ET 2011-03-11T00:19:43

Residents in the Northeast and parts of the Midwest nervously watched rising waterways Thursday as heavy rain swelled creeks and rivers, damaged houses, detoured commuters and forced amusement park workers to pack up equipment.

In Pompton Lakes, N.J., a pelting rain fell on Liri Zekirovski and a friend as they removed water-damaged furniture and flooring from Zekirovski's father-in-law's house next to the Pompton River.

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It was the second time the area had been waterlogged in less than a week. In a small playground across the street, remnants of Sunday night's flooding could be seen in a bicycle rack that was nearly covered in mud.

"It's getting ridiculous. It's like every time it rains this is going to happen," Zekirovski said as he pointed to a water line on the front of the house about 2½ feet high. "It seems like we're putting in a new kitchen every six months. It might be better just to eat outside."

Flood watches were in effect across much of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York.

The National Weather Service issued a flood warning for the Delaware River from north of Philadelphia through southern New Jersey, where moderate coastal flooding was predicted. The weather service said minor flooding on the Schuylkill River was also likely.

The Mid-Atlantic was also gearing up for rain-related problems. More than 2 inches of rain in parts of western Maryland pushed streams over their banks and prompted road closures, while a mudslide closed one lane of a heavily traveled commuter road in Washington on Thursday morning.

In Cincinnati, the rising Ohio River forced employees at Coney Island Amusement Park to move equipment such as ride motors and controllers to higher, dryer ground. The flooding closed roads, a public school, the River Downs horse racing track and waterfront restaurants across the state line in northern Kentucky.

The National Weather Service said the Ohio River was expected to crest at more than 4 feet above flood stage this weekend.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie declared a state of emergency Wednesday. On Thursday, officials alerted about 100 New Jersey Army and Air National Guard troops that they may be placed on active duty to respond to any flooding.

Rainfall amounts of 3 inches or more were forecast for portions of northern New Jersey. The National Weather Service predicted major flooding this weekend along the Pompton River at Pompton Plains and along the Passaic River at Little Falls and Pine Brook.

Major flooding also is forecast along the Susquehanna River near Binghamton, N.Y., where the water is expected to crest about 5 feet over flood stage on Saturday.

About 30 miles away in Waverly, Karla Koehn was moving her living room furniture into the kitchen, where she hoped to keep it dry by setting it atop cinder blocks.

"It's the only thing you can do unless you want to completely empty your home, which I don't really have the time or the energy to do," said Koehn, 49, a home health care aide and medical transcriptionist.

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Koehn endured a major flood during 2006 in which water filled the basement nearly up to her floorboards and made her oil tank float. Now her oil tank is anchored with concrete. This time, she fears water will come in the first floor.

"You have to worry a little bit because you never know what can happen," she said. "Water is pretty powerful."

Two to 4 inches of rain was expected in Philadelphia through Friday, with similar amounts forecast for New York's Lower Hudson Valley.

At a conference in Philadelphia on Thursday addressing the quality of drinking water from the Delaware River, Environmental Protection Agency regional director Shawn Garvin spoke of his fondness for the waterway he knows so well.

"I'll be even more familiar with it when I'm vacuuming it out of my basement tonight," joked Garvin, who lives in Wilmington, Del.

Moderate flooding was expected in central Pennsylvania, including along the Swatara Creek near Hershey, where the state wrestling tournament was being held at the Giant Center.

Parking attendants Dean Behrendt and Cord Clark, both 18 and from Palmyra, were dressed in bright yellow rain slickers, shoulders hunched at times under a steady downpour.

"It's cold. It's real windy out, sometimes it makes it unbearable," Behrendt said. "I just try to layer up and get through it."

In Ohio, heavy rains over the past week-and-a-half have swelled rivers and streams. On Tuesday, the Scioto River in southern Ohio toppled a home that had been under construction in Piketon for the past 10 years.

Video shot by John Sparks' daughter shows his unfinished dream house floating down the river. Sparks told WSYX-TV that he plans to rebuild.

In northeastern Pennsylvania, the Susquehanna River is forecast to crest at 9 feet above flood stage in Wilkes-Barre by Saturday morning. The city is protected by a levee system, but nearby communities including Plymouth Township, Shickshinny, Plains Township and West Pittston are vulnerable.

Video: Tornado hits store, sends workers running (on this page)

The storm also was expected to bring snow to some spots.

Wet snow was expected to begin falling on northeast Ohio late Thursday. Up to a foot could accumulate through Friday, with the heaviest expected from the Akron area east to Youngstown and the Pennsylvania line.

Pittsburgh could see up to 8 inches of snow by Saturday morning. In the Adirondacks in New York, forecasts called for several inches.

Just a few days ago, a wild mix of snow, sleet and rain battered a wide swath of New England and upstate New York, dumping nearly 30 inches of snow on some areas, knocking out power to tens of thousands of utility customers, washing away homes and leaving many rivers and streams at high levels.

The same system on Wednesday produced severe weather in the South.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explainer: Spring flood forecast

  • NOAA

    "A large swath of the North Central United States is at risk of moderate to major flooding this spring," the National Weather Service said in its latest forecast on Feb. 24. Below are the scenarios by region.

  • North Central U.S.: above average

    Image: Ice backs up on Mississippi River
    Emily M Rasinski  /  St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP
    Ice backs up on the Mississippi River around the Clark Bridge in Alton, Ill., north of St. Louis, on Jan. 24.

    Heavy late summer and autumn precipitation (twice the normal amount since October in parts of North Dakota and Minnesota) have left soils saturated and streams running high before the winter freeze-up. NWS models show this year’s snowpack contains a water content ranked among the highest of the last 60 years.

    The combination put a large portion of the North Central United States at risk of moderate to major flooding this spring, extending from northeastern Montana through western Wisconsin and along the Mississippi River south to St. Louis.

    Information provided by NOAA on February 17, 2011, indicated Fargo, N.D., has a near 95 percent chance of exceeding major flood stage of 30 feet. At a stage of 30 feet, portions of downtown Fargo begin flooding and temporary dike construction is necessary. Approximately a 20 percent chance exists of reaching or exceeding the 40.8 foot record set in 2009. Grand Forks, N.D., has about a 95 percent chance of exceeding major flood stage of 46 feet. There is approximately a 40 percent chance of Devils Lake, N.D., exceeding 1,455 feet, which could partially inundate portions of the town of Minnewauken, including critical infrastructure and roads across the lake, emergency service routes and possibly a small section of the Amtrak train line.

    There is potential for moderate to major flooding on the Milk River and its tributaries in northeastern Montana. The Milk River near Glasgow Montana has about a 90 percent chance of exceeding the major flood stage of 27 feet. Some minor ice jam flooding is already occurring in Montana; additional flooding resulting from ice jams is likely throughout the late winter and early spring.

    The James River at Huron, S.D., has about a 90 percent chance of exceeding major flood stage of 15 feet and a 30 percent chance of exceeding the record 21.2 foot level set in 1997. The Big Sioux River at Brookings, S.D., has a greater than 95 percent chance of exceeding major flood stage of 12 feet and about a 30 percent chance of exceeding the 14.77-foot record set in 1969.

    The Mississippi River is likely to see major flooding from its headwaters near St. Paul, Minnesota, downstream to St. Louis. St. Paul, MN., has about a 95 percent chance of exceeding major flood stage of 17 feet, where secondary flood walls are deployed to protect the St. Paul Airport. Further downstream, the risk of major flooding on the Mississippi (Iowa, Illinois and Missouri borders) will persist into the spring. Much of that region’s snowpack typically accumulates later in the winter. The quantity of spring rains and late-season snow will determine the magnitude of flooding in the Middle Mississippi Valley.

  • Northeast: above average

    Image: Frozen Hudson River
    Mike Groll  /  AP
    The Hudson-Athens Lighthouse is frozen in ice on the Hudson River and in front of the Catskill Mountains in Hudson, N.Y., on Jan. 14.

    There is a small area of above average flood risk in portions of the Northeast, primarily across Southern New England and the Catskills Mountains in N.Y. state. As a result of October and November rain storms, these regions had above normal soil moisture levels prior to the winter freeze, followed by above average snowfall, and river icing in many locations.

    If snowpack and river icing conditions were to persist beyond mid-March, this area could have an elevated risk of spring flooding during the melt period, especially if heavy rains fall during the melt.

  • Southern plains: below average

    Image: Dry area of Texas
    Eric Gay  /  AP
    An irrigation system is used to bring water to a dry field near Hondo, Texas on Dec. 15.

    Fall and winter precipitation over Texas and New Mexico was significantly below average, ranging from 20 to 75 percent of normal from October 2010 to mid-February 2011. Portions of the Pecos River and the Rio Grande basins received as little as 10 percent of normal rainfall. Soil Moisture Analysis by the Climate Prediction Center show drier than normal soils from the surface to as deep as 2 meters.

    This deficit will minimize the amount of water that can be converted to river flows during any rainstorm. Current stream flow conditions as measured by the US Geological Survey range from near average too much below average for stations across this region.

  • Mid-Atlantic, Southeast: below average

    Image: Dry Georgia farm
    David Goldman  /  AP
    Farmer Aries Haygood shows how dry the top layer of soil is on his freshly planted onion farm in Lyons, Ga., on Dec. 10.

    Fall and winter precipitation over the Mid Atlantic and Southeast ranged from 50 to 75 percent of average for this period. Isolated portions of South and North Carolina only received between 25 and 50 percent of normal precipitation. Therefore, soil moisture is well below normal across most of the Southeastern US and the Mid-Atlantic.

    Deficits in the precipitation and soil moisture water contents translate into below average stream flow conditions for much of the region and a below average flood risk for the spring.

  • West: no forecast yet

    Image: Snow in Sierras
    Scott Sady  /  AP
    A utility worker restores service to homes around Lake Tahoe, Calif., on Dec. 20 after a storm that dumped up to 10 feet of snow in places.

    Late February is too early to determine spring flooding potential across the Western U.S. Much of the snowfall which determines spring runoff in the mountain west accumulates during the remainder of the winter and spring.

    Snowpack remains above and much above average in many regions. However, extreme high temperature can lead to elevated melt rates at any time during spring. There is still ample time left in the accumulation period for the spring flood potential to change.

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