December 28, 2020

The Market Street Bridge will remain closed until Jan. 4 as a precaution, since worst-case projections call for the Susquehanna River to crest above the major flood level of 30 feet at Wilkes-Barre this weekend.

“It appears we could have a repeat of last week’s forecast for this weekend,” said Christopher Belleman, executive director of the Luzerne County Flood Protection Authority. Belleman announced Monday that the bridge, which connects Wilkes-Barre and Kingston, would stay closed for another week.

The bridge closed Friday and crews placed large aluminum flood panels at both ends of the structure, since projections last week called for the river to crest at 34 feet, well into the “major” flood stage as categorized by the National Weather Service.

As it turned out, a rapid drop in temperatures curtailed snow melt upstream of Luzerne County, so the feared flood did not materialize. The river crested at 25.63 feet at Wilkes-Barre on Saturday.

But round two could be coming soon.

Weather forecasts call for a storm to potentially dump several inches of rain on the region on Thursday, when temperatures could reach the 50s.

That could lead to flooding concerns this weekend, Belleman said.

He said he spoke with a National Weather Service meteorologist, who said there is still much uncertainty in the forecast. The weather service will not feel confident about its forecast until Wednesday, Belleman said.

Given that and the fact that some computerized simulations show a chance of major flooding, Belleman said he had no choice but to keep the bridge closed throughout the week.

“I don’t like to keep the closures up longer than necessary since Market Street is a major road for commerce and emergency vehicles,” Belleman wrote in an email. “But under the circumstances I think this is necessary for public safety.”

Flood concerns last week also focused on Solomon Creek.

Wilkes-Barre Mayor George Brown ordered the closure of flood gates along the creek at South Franklin, Regent, Waller and Barney streets.

Crews reopened Barney Street on Monday, but city officials will decide Tuesday whether to remove flood barriers at the other locations, Brown said.

The mayor said he wants to consult with the weather service before making that call. He said he does not want to take down flood barriers along the creek if they would need to be installed again days later.

Projections and preparation

The latest projections for river levels and precipitation may be viewed at:

Projected river levels for the next seven to 10 days are listed under Additional Information.

The flood authority and emergency management officials monitor those projections closely, and consult with the weather service whenever a potential flood event looms, Belleman said.

“Some models under-predict and some models over-predict, and that is where the uncertainty lies at times,” he said.

Last week, most models showed peak river crests that ranged from minor to major flood stage, but well within the design capacity of the levee system near Wilkes-Barre, which is rated to provide protection from a river crest of 41 feet.

However, one model simulation showed a slight chance of a crest of up to 44 feet. For the upcoming potential flood event, the highest projection, given just a 5% chance of verifying, is about 37 feet.

The flood authority examines all data available, Belleman said.

“Just because one model shows a major flood event we don’t necessarily immediately respond,” he said. “We only respond after looking at the data, talking with NWS, evaluating our available resources, and then moving forward once we have assimilated the information.”

Also, it takes a couple of days to assemble all the resources needed to prepare for a major flood, Belleman said.

“Always, if there is significant uncertainty, we will err on the side of public safety,” he said.