Emergency crews continued to prepare for flash flooding and outages as heavy rain from Tropical Storm Henri reached Schenectady mid-afternoon Sunday.
However, concerns of massive flooding in the Capital and Mohawk Valley regions receded by late Sunday afternoon as the National Hurricane Center downgraded Henri to a tropical storm ahead of its landfall.
“I mean, we’re certainly prepared,” Colleen M. Flynn, the emergency management coordinator for Schoharie County said. “But we don’t anticipate anything more than potentially flash flooding.”
Out of Albany International Airport, the National Weather Service reported light rain and fog conditions entering Sunday evening, with showers and a possible thunderstorm that could produce heavy rainfall, with amounts between a tenth and quarter of an inch. Higher amounts possible during thunderstorms.
Showers and possibly a thunderstorm conditions were forecast for Monday, with new rainfall amounts between a half and three quarters of an inch possible.
Ahead of the storm’s arrival, the Canal Corp. reduced water levels of the Mohawk River and Erie Canal to allow the water to flow freely downstream.
“You already see the difference,” Shane Mahar, a state Canal Corp. spokesman, said during a briefing at Erie Canal Lock 9 at Rotterdam Junction.
The Canal Corp. preemptively lifted its movable dams along the Erie Canal and Mohawk River between Locks 8 and 15, from Rotterdam to Fort Plain.
President Joe Biden on Sunday approved the state’s emergency declaration, making New York eligible for federal disaster relief aid in response to the tropical storm.
A flood watch remained in effect through Monday evening for the Capital District, eastern Mohawk Valley, Schoharie Valley, Saratoga Region, Lake George, the mid-Hudson Valley, eastern Catskills of eastern New York, Taconics, Helderbergs, and southern Vermont and western Massachusetts.
The storm had weakened as it entered Rhode Island, en route to New York midday Sunday.
Carl Zeilman, emergency services commissioner for Saratoga County, said the county stood ready to respond.
“We’re constantly monitoring the weather. The county has taken part in conference calls with the Canal Corp., with the National Weather Service and the various utilities that provide services to the county, and those will continue until the storm moves out of the county,” Zeilman said, adding concern about motorists.
“You’re concerned about the safety of your residents and first responders, and one of the things that we like to stress is, with flash flooding, which could potentially occur from this storm, don’t try to drive through flooded roadways,” he said. “You put yourself at risk, and then you put our first responders at risk, who have to come out and provide you with extrication for that situation.
“At this time, we have seen so much rain in the past few weeks here locally, the ground is pretty saturated,” Zeilman said. “So, if we do get the heavy rainfall that they’re forecasting, you could see your flash flooding. You could see the rivers and streams rise and cause some minor flooding along those areas as well, so we’ll continue to communicate with our partners in each municipality and respond, if needed.”
Schenectady County Manager Rory Fluman said, “We’re trending in the right direction,” with the downgrading to a tropical storm.
“All of our emergency management people are meeting now and ready to go if they do need to assist the city of Schenectady or assist the Village of Scotia, to offer any assistance at all with floods,” Fluman said.
Mahar, the state Canal Corp. spokesman, said the lifting of the movable dams along the Erie Canal and Mohawk River was a lesson learned from tropical storms Irene and Lee, which caused more than $1 billion in damage to the state and nears their 10-year anniversaries.
“The original two versions of the Erie Canal were in a land-cut ditch, parallel to the Mohawk River,” Mahar said. “In the early 1900s, when the state made the decision to enlarge the canal for a third time and create the barge canal, they did it by installing and building these movable dam structures.”
The dams, he said, were built to be raised and lowered into the river during summer navigation during canal season.
When the dams are lowered into the river, they artificially back up the Mohawk River, creating a navigation pool, between the locks. This allows larger boats to go up and downstream between the lock structures.
Every winter, in November and December, the Canal Corp. raises the moveable dam gates to allow the river to flow freely, enabling ice or any buildup of water to float downstream.
The canal system sustained $84 million in damage from the tropical storms 10 years ago because the movable dams were not strong enough to be lifted on a moment’s notice under high water or heavy flow conditions, Mahar said.
As a consequence, the Federal Emergency Management Agency invested $28 million into the canal system, to rebuild and strengthen the movable dams with new steel uprights, an upper gate, chains, winches, top and lower plates of steel and LED lighting.
“The piece of machinery moving across as a mechanical winch or mule has a big motor in it, and there are chains that get put on that winch, and that’s what lifts and lowers the gates and the upgrades up out of the water,” Mahar said.
“It’s all part of the climate change and resiliency and really building a stronger canal system for the next generation of not only users of the canal, but for the communities,” he said. “This helps protect the communities that helps protect Scotia, Rotterdam, Schenectady, Glenville and Amsterdam,” among others.
Out of fascination, Bill Hansen, a resident of nearby Riverwalk Condominiums, watched the Canal Corp. operation Sunday morning.
Hansen said he had minimal concerns of local flooding.
“There might be some minor flooding, but nothing like” 10 years ago, he said.