A massive ice floe made its way through the Mohawk River after dark on Wednesday, and scientists and emergency managers were able to watch it happen in real time without even being there.
A new river ice monitoring system - including a webcam on the Mohawk River that went online Saturday - is believed to be the most-advanced system of its kind.
The U.S. Geological Survey credits Union College, the New York Power Authority, Brookfield Renewable Power and the state Department of Environmental Conservation with taking part in establishing the new Mohawk River Ice Jam Monitoring site.
Scientists at the USGS devised a method of estimating the impact ice has on the levels of the Mohawk River using USGS stream gauges situated at Lock-E8 in Glenville and near Freeman's Bridge.
The new webcam, positioned near Schenectady's oft-flooded Stockade neighborhood, provides a look at what's happening between those sites.
"This is a fantastic development and it's something that a whole bunch of people have been working on," said Union College Geology Professor John Garver, one of those involved in the system's creation.
It's been a goal of numerous people for the past 10 years now, Garver said.
Up until now, emergency managers had to send police or others down to the river to see where the ice was jamming up, Garver said.
Now, they can take a look from a computer at the office.
"The first time that it was going through Sunday the whole system was working and we could monitor everything in real time," Garver said.
"Where the ice is, how the ice is moving throughout the system. I'm happy and proud that we got this. I don't think there's another one like this in the world," Garver said.
"This does seem to be a fairly unique setup," said Gary Wall, a hydrologist at the USGS Water Science Center in Troy who set up the system.
The site, using USGS gauge data, allows scientists to see the difference between the river's level between Lock-E8 and at Freeman's Bridge.
"When we see that there's a difference between what we expect and what there actually is during this time of year, we can attribute that to the amount of ice in the river," Wall said.
"It gives you tremendous extra information when we're looking at these two sites, as to what's going on," Wall said.
Schenectady County deputy emergency management director Kyle Rudolphsen said he was not at liberty to discuss the new system.
The county's emergency management personnel have been involved in its development and they are already monitoring the site, according to the Wall.
"They've been a big partner in this as well. They and the residents of Schenectady are the primary folks benefitting from this," Wall said.
The webcam comes with additional features.
It's unclear yet if the site will handle hundreds of users all at once - but those who turn on the webcam are able to tell it to focus on the Amtrak bridge that crosses the river - or tell it to pan upstream to view what's headed for the bridge.
It also centers on the river between the two points on request. It takes about 15 seconds to respond to a request to move.
And during the evening, the webcam continues recording using infrared, providing a view officials would have to get by going to the river and using a flashlight.
People interested in watching the ice flow can do so online on the site at http://ny.water.usgs.gov/flood/MohawkIce/index.html.
Another site offers a glimpse at what happens to the ice when it cascades over the Cohoes Falls downstream of Lock-E7.
It's not a real-time running Web cam, but the camera set up at Cohoes Falls refreshes its snapshot about four times daily.
That site can be viewed online at http://ny.water.usgs.gov/rt/pub/01357500.htm.