Last year many regions including the PA Highlands weathered a long and frigid winter followed by record levels of precipitation, resulting in raging streams and widespread flood damage to trails, roads and river accesses.
We're only a quarter of the way through 2012 and have experienced record high temperatures and extremely low amounts of precipitation. In fact the number of consecutive high temperature record breaking days has been described as being "unprecedented."
The effects of the dry winter and early spring are reflected in virtually every creek and river in the PA Highlands Region and beyond. Major rivers such as the Delaware, Lehigh, Schuylkill and Susquehanna are running well below half the normal flow for this time of year. Real-time data for all stream gages in the PA Highlands and the rest of the state can be found online at USGS Current Conditions for Pennsylvania: Streamflow.
Highland tributaries to the major rivers such as the Swatara Creek (Susquehanna River) and Perkiomen Creek (Schuylkill River) also continue to fall to levels more typically seen in late summer, after an extended dry period.
Tohickon Creek at Low Flow
Given the wildly variable weather patterns of the past several years it's possible that 2012 will end up with a normal amount of precipitation. For the foreseeable future the scant precipitation will continue to impact streams by setting up the potential for sudden spikes in water temperature as air temperatures inevitably increase. Fishermen report earlier than ever hatches of aquatic insects and some of the lowest flows ever witnessed for early April.
Boaters have been thwarted by the low flows too. The months leading up to opening day of trout season is prime paddling season on smaller streams like the French Creek, in northern Chester County. It would normally be flowing around 140 cfs during the first week of April. Today it's just over 50 cfs. So far this year paddlers throughout the region have been limited to larger streams with enough flow, except for the few scheduled whitewater releases such as the recent Tohickon Creek release from Lake Nockamixon.
Another result of the dry weather is the threat of forest fires. The October 29, 2011 snow storm left an enormous amount of tinder on the ground, exacerbating the combustible threat. The entire PA Highlands Region is under a "Very High" fire danger warning. Keep your fingers crossed for rain, or do a rain dance. Just be careful for what you wish for.
Labels: cfs, Delaware River, dry weather, forest fire, Lehigh River, low flow, record high temperature, rivers, Schuylkill River, stream flow, stream gage, Susquehanna River, Tohickon, whitewater