November 27, 2021

Blame Fred for flood, but it could’ve been worse

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As much as 5 inches of rain fell Tuesday in Preble as flash floods fueled by Tropical Storm Fred overwhelmed creeks and drainage ditches in Tully, Scott and Preble.

Jim Brewster, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Binghamton, said the agency first received reports about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday of flooding in Tully and Preble.

“We have a measured rainfall report of 5 inches in Preble, and another report of 4.74 inches of total rain in the past 24 hours,” Brewster said about noon Wednesday. “The New York State Mesonet recorded 3.56 inches. You can see how rainfall can vary over a very short distance — one part of town can get more rainfall than another part of the same town.”

Tropical Storm Fred is moving through Pennsylvania and moisture from the storm is leading to heavy rainfall across upstate New York.

From Wednesday to the end of the day Friday, the National Weather Service expects another 2 to 4 inches of rain in the greater Cortland area — with more expected for locations closer to the tropical storm.

It could have been worse. In July, the National Weather Service at Binghamton reported the ground and soil were so oversaturated that rainfall could lead to flash flooding. Rain was less frequent in the first half of August, so the soil could dry, Brewster said.

“So that actually helped,” Brewster said. “If the rain from Tuesday night had happened toward the end of July, it would have been insane flooding.”

But wet or dry, 5 inches is a lot of water.

“That much volume in 12 hours is going to cause some flooding no matter what,” he said.

Although the ground was not oversaturated at the start of this week, the 3.24 inches of rain Cortland has received since then — more elsewhere — may have put the region back to where it was in July.

“In essence, the rainfall that’s already on the ground and the fact that we had so much of it Tuesday night and throughout Wednesday, we’re back to an above normal wetness,” Brewster said.

Minor flooding was expected for the Tioughnioga River at Cortland, although not the Otselic River near Cincinnatus. Still, people living near streams or creeks should be prepared for potential flooding.

“It’s important to not necessarily feel completely safe — if you’re living near a body of water, just because it’s not on the flood zone map doesn’t mean it’s not going to flood,” Brewster said.

Even people who do not live near a waterway should understand their basements could still flood.

“If you live near a smaller stream or creek or a poor drainage area, you really need to be cognizant that we could reach a tipping point where all that water is coming into those waterways,” Brewster said. “Damage could range anywhere from a few streets closing because of flooding, or you could have streams roaring and blowing out culverts.”


Take precautions

During flooding, Cortland County officials suggest you:

  • Do not drive around barricades and heed cautionary signs.
  • Do not drive through standing water, because the roads may become washed out.
  • Avoid flood waters.
  • Sign up for the County Hyper-Reach notification system to stay informed at secure.hyper-reach.com/comsignupw.jsp?id=46962
  • Remain aware and stay tuned to news media outlets for updates.