The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

February 21, 2014

Ashtabula County hopeful it can dodge big flood threat

By MARK TODD - mtodd@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

JEFFERSON — Government officials were casting anxious eyes on local waterways late Thursday, worried that a combination of frozen rivers, heavy rain and melting snow would create a flooding fiasco.

But heading into Thursday night, no major problems had been reported, said Mike Fitchet, Ashtabula County Emergency Management Agency director. But today could be another matter if rain persisted and temperatures stayed above freezing. A flood warning remains in effect through Friday morning, while a high wind advisory won’t expire until 7 p.m. today, according to the National Weather Service.

Wishes for warmer weather were fulfilled Thursday, but at a cost. Rain, heavy at times, pelted the area. Standing water was everywhere on roads and streets because drains and catch basins were clogged or covered with snow and ice.

No county roads had to be closed for flooding as of Thursday, but the county highway department is prepared — just in case, said Amir Garakouei, superintendent.

“We’re getting ready for it,” he said. “We’ve put barriers near our usual trouble spots, like North Bend Road.”

Also, county crews have been cleaning catch basins in anticipation of a watery overload, Garakouei said.

A few factors worked in the

county’s favor on Thursday, Fitchet said. The rain was intermittent, not a day-long, steady downpour, he said. Also, temperatures didn’t climb quite as high as forecasted. As a result, the melt was a little slower than expected.

Ice can be found in streams and rivers, but not as much as was evident a few weeks ago, Fitchet said.

“But last time we didn’t have the rain,” he said. “A lot (today) depends on the amount of rain and the temperature (which could climb into the 40s, according to the NWS).”

There’s another problem on the horizon. Cold temperatures, with lows dipping into single digits, will return at the start of the week. Ice jams on rivers will strengthen, boosting the potential for greater upstream flooding, according to the NWS. Ice jams are a real threat: they can cause huge damage if they break loose and invade riverbanks. Ice just six inches thick can flatten trees and knock houses off foundations, according to the NWS.

Jams can be found in some spots around the county, including a stretch of the Ashtabula River between Brockway Marina and the lift bridge, Fitchet said.

Ice is also on the move on Lake Erie, which could give river ice some welcome breathing room.

Plenty of people are helping the county EMA keep tabs on ice movement, including the Coast Guard and dock companies in Conneaut and Ashtabula, Fitchet said. “We’ll be checking on it,” he said.