Heavy Rains Boost Mosquito Population

If you’ve been swatting more mosquitoes lately, you can lay some of the blame on Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.   The back to back storms left a lot of standing water, where mosquitoes are likely to breed.

 Kevin Sunday, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, says they started noticing more mosquitoes showing up in some of the traps in the north central and south central parts of the state. In one trap, which usually caught 25 mosquitoes, was capturing in the hundreds, and in some occasions in the thousands of mosquitoes.  

Sunday says they were seeing about 25% more of the mosquitoes that carry the West Nile Virus before the storms, since the flooding there’s been another increase of about 10%.

DEP has been doing extra control operations across the state to bring the mosquito population down. That effort will continue for another month. PEMA and the state Department of Health had asked DEP to collaborate and do additional sprayings.

Sunday says people can help by eliminating as much of the standing water around their properties as possible. He says wheelbarrows, jammed gutters and even overturned Frisbees can collect enough water for mosquitoes to breed.

Sunday adds that people should also take steps to keep mosquitoes out of their homes, checking to make sure screens are intact. He says wear long sleeves and use insect repellant when you have to work outdoors in the evening when mosquitoes are out.

Rain Increases Flooding Threat Again

Some areas that had barely dried out after Tropical Storm Lee were getting hit with flooding again as a low pressure system brought showers and heavy downpours to parts of Pennsylvania on Tuesday and Wednesday. The eastern half of the state was under flash flood watches and warnings.

Flooding was reported in Luzerne, Lackawanna and Wyoming Counties, areas that had been hit earlier this month by Lee. Flood warnings were also issued for parts of Columbia, Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Schuylkill, Snyder, Northumberland, Cumberland, Perry, York, Montour, Sullivan, Tioga, Lycoming and Union counties.

Charles Ross, hydrologist with the National Weather Service in State College, says the ground is still very saturated, and it doesn’t take a lot of rain to cause flooding. A low pressure system to the west brought moisture from the south with rain showers and embedded heavier thunderstorms.

Ross says August was already a wet month, and then we had Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. He says that raised the risk for quick rises on streams, creeks and rivers in areas hit by heavy downpours. He says the rainfall amounts from this system are not anywhere near the level of Lee, but some areas were getting 3-6 inches.

Ross says the rain should start moving out Thursday and by the weekend, it will feel like fall.

Bloomsburg Flood - Tropical Storm Lee

$47-Million Already Approved for PA Flood Victims


The number of Disaster Recovery Centers has more than doubled since Governor Tom Corbett first made the announcement on Sept. 14th.

Federal and state officials have nearly tripled the number of Disaster Recovery Centers operating in flood ravaged parts of the state.  The number now stands at 18.  FEMA spokesman Eugene Brezany is in the field in central Pennsylvania, and says those DRCs have been busy.  “A lot of people are following up on their application and that’s what we’re there for.” 

Between Tropical Storm Lee and the earlier Hurricane Irene, FEMA has received 29,000 registrations from Pennsylvanians seeking federal assistance.  10,000 Pennsylvania applications have been approved and Brezany says $47-million dollars in aid have been obligated so far.  “It’s moving as fast as it can for somebody.  For everybody, it’s probably not fast enough, but we are certainly moving some funds out the door.” 

No deadline for applications has been established yet, but FEMA won’t be here forever, and Brezany says the sooner flood victims register, the sooner the process can begin. 

The maximum federal grant for disaster assistance is $30,200, but the average runs in the $4,000 to $5,000 dollar range.  “It’s not going to get anybody back to square one, it’s simply designed to get people back on their feet so that they can help themselves,” Brezany explained.  Bills have been introduced in the State Senate, which would pick up where the federal efforts leave off. 

Meanwhile, FEMA officials and Pennsylvania flood victims alike are watching the latest political battle on Capitol Hill.  FEMA’s disaster recovery fund is caught in the middle, and could run dry as early as next week.  It’s not clear what the implications could be for PA flood victims. 

Flood victims are asked to register before they visit a Disaster Recovery Center.  Eligible counties from Tropical Storm Lee include: Adams, Bradford, Columbia, Cumberland, Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Luzerne, Lycoming, Montour, Northumberland, Perry, Schuylkill, Snyder, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Union, Wyoming and York.  Eligible counties from Hurricane Irene include: Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lehigh, Monroe, Northampton, Philadelphia, Sullivan and Wyoming.

Weather Wreaks Havoc on Pumpkin Harvest

From the heavy spring rains that delayed planting, to the late summer floods, it was a bad weather year for pumpkins.  “Between the weather conditions and disease potential that we’re getting in the fields, it’s a much smaller crop than in previous years,” says Penn State Extension vegetable specialist Mike Orzolek.  “This might be the smallest crop we’ve had in the last ten years.” 

This year’s wild weather ride started cool and wet, turned hot and dry, then back again.  Orzolek says July’s heat wave thwarted fruit development.  “Ontop of that, the remnants of Irene and Lee just dumped all of that rain on eastern and central PA, and there was a substantial loss of pumpkin acreage, simply because the pumpkins were submerged.”

This pumpkin is about to be roasted, then scooped into the food processor.

Pennsylvania is normally a top state for pumpkin production, no matter how you crunch the numbers, but Orzolek says consumers should be aware of this year’s limited quantities.  “I would go out and see what’s there and purchase it relatively quickly,” he says, adding that there will be few of the orange gourds to choose from by the time Halloween arrives. 

Based on simple supply and demand principles, consumers will want to brace for higher pumpkin prices too.  “We’re not going to see the doubling or tripling of prices, but certainly I would expect you might see a 50% increase in price this year over last year,” Orzolek estimates.

Capitol View from East Wing

Bills Drafted in Response to Massive Floods


Bloomsburg Flood - Tropical Storm Lee

Bloomsburg, Columbia County was among the hardest hit areas.

As recent flooding reached historic proportions in many communities, lawmakers are preparing bills to augment federal disaster aid and speed the recovery process.  “State government will never be the ultimate insurer,” says State Senator Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne).  “But when disaster strikes, it is a core function of government to protect lives & property, to restore public safety & infrastructure, and to provide victims the necessities of life when the emergency robs them of everything they need and value,”

Officials say the seven-bill, bipartisan package should be ready soon, and they expect quick action once it’s been formally introduced. 

One bill would create a special account to provide additional state grant money to eligible flood victims who’ve maxed out their federal aid. 

State Senator John Gordner (R-Columbia)

State Sen. John Gordner (R-Columbia)

Another bill would authorize $250-million dollars in bonds to pay to repair flood damaged roads and bridges.  “We will be getting, hopefully, a tremendous amount of federal assistance for the hundreds – maybe thousands – of roads and bridges that have been damaged, but normally the federal government provides about 75% of the funding,” says State Senator John Gordner (R-Columbia), who’s spearheading the effort. 

Three bills in the package would authorize county-by-county lists of flood damaged roads, bridges and flood control systems, adding them to the state’s capital budget. 

Local taxing bodies would have the ability to abate the property taxes on condemned structures, under another bill.  The final bill of the package would allow for educational waivers for things like the 180-instructional day mandate.  “I can tell you that I have at least one school district in my senatorial district that as of today still is not back in school,” Gordner explains.  “That is the Benton Area School District in Columbia County.” 

In addition to Senators Gordner and Baker, John Yudichak (D-Luzerne), Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) and John Blake (D-Lackawanna) are sponsoring parts of the package of bills.  The sponsors have not yet put a price tag on the legislation, but the special account for flood victims would come out of the budget surplus from fiscal year 2010/2011.

PennDOT Still Assessing Damage from Lee

PennDOT is still checking roads and bridges that were flooded by Tropical Storm Lee and assessing the full impact of the storm.  Spokesman Steve Chizmar says they fully expect damages will exceed 100 million dollars

The problems range from entire bridges and sections of road swept away, to minor shoulder washouts that can be more easily repaired.  The damage is spread out across the eastern part of the state, but Chizmar says the majority of problems are  in the nine county District 3 region, which is  based in Montoursville.

Chizmar says even major roads were affected. A section of Interstate 81 in Schuylkill County had to be completely reworked before it could be reopened.  He says it was a devastating flood that impacted basically the eastern third of Pennsylvania.

Chizmar says in some cases, the damage is not immediately apparent. He says anytime you have water sitting on top of the road or flowing heavily along the road, it can undermine the roadway.  He says they know the areas where they’ve received damage in the past for high water, and are they’re out inspecting those areas.  But he says if someone spots new damage, they can report it to 1-800-FIX-ROAD. He adds the 800 phone line is not just for potholes but any kind of road damage.

Chizmar says this kind of damage comes at a bad time. He says you’re adding more damage to a transportation network that is already underfunded and under stress.  He says the storm has magnified the importance of transportation.

Flooding From Lee Causes Damage to Game Commission Properties

Flooding from Tropical Storm Lee has taken at toll on property owned by the state Game Commission.   Damage is still being assessed, but is expected to be in the millions.

The losses include thousands of pheasants at two Lycoming County game farms, Loyalsock and Northcentral,  that were killed or escaped.  There was also damage to buildings and holding fields at the farms.  

Game Commission Executive Director Carl Roe says nearly 30 to 40 thousand pheasants that had been raised and ready for release for this fall’s hunting season have perished or escaped.  He says they’re doing what they can to recapture those that escaped, but the losses could total up to 40% of the total pheasant production planned for this year.

Roe says these are significant losses that will force them to re-evaluate fall stocking plans.  He says it’s too late in the season to raise additional pheasants or purchase birds from private property owners to replace these losses.  Roe adds the facilities were recently improved using Growing Greener II dollars.  He says the damage could jeopardize plans to double production next year.

There was also road and bridge damage state game lands 12, 36, 57 and 211 in Bradford, Wyoming, Luzerne, Dauphin and Lebanon Counties. Roe says roadways on state games lands 12 and 36 are impassable and several bridges are gone as flood waters washed them away. State game lands 57 had considerable road damage from flooding. State game lands 211   had the old railroad grade washed out in several places.  He says the damage forced postponement of the public tours planned in October for those game lands.

***Photo of Ring Necked Pheasant by Joe Kosack/PGC Photo

Farmers Still Assessing Damage From Lee

Flooding from Tropical Storm Lee dealt another blow to farmers, following an already difficult summer.   It will take awhile to get a full picture of the damage in areas hit by flooding.  Mark O’Neill of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau says some farmers still can’t get to all of their fields.  He says conservative estimates put the losses at tens of millions of dollars, but it may take weeks or more to get a complete tally.

 O’Neill   says farmers need to document their damage, including taking photos when possible, and contact their local farm service agency to report their losses as soon as possible. He says that way the farm service agency can try to get further assistance for farmers. He says crop insurance will help, but won’t cover all of the loss.  

O’Neill says it’s already been a tough summer.  Hurricane Irene knocked down some corn crops and dropped fruits in orchards.  Excessive rain has hit vegetable crops.   He says tomatoes can crack on the vine from too much moisture. There’s also the potential for rot and mold with the additional rain from Lee, affecting anything from cucumbers to pumpkins.  A rainy spring delayed the planting of some crops.

There was a bit of good news.  In northeastern Pennsylvania, flood waters blocked numerous roads.  As a result, some dairy farmers could not transport their milk to processors.  Some had to dump the milk.  But O’Neill says they’re getting word some of those farmers will be paid as if they delivered that milk.

Meanwhile, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says 2011 is the worst year for weather disasters resulting in losses of one billion dollars or more.  Hurricane Irene put the total at 10, topping the 9 incidents in 2008.  Officials do not believe at this time that damage from Lee will reach that mark, but those totals are still being tallied. The year has been marked by record floods, tornadoes and drought.