Monday, February 6th, 2023
Monday, February 6th, 2023

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Dreaded hurricanes often good for state

By Jeff
Mulhollem
Editor

University Park, Pa. „ These days, with repeated stark TV images
of flooding in New Orleans and devastation in states bordering the
Gulf of Mexico „ all wrought by Hurricane Katrina „ Bryan Swistock
almost hates to mention it.

But in dry years like this one, he points out, it is often heavy
rains brought north by hurricane remnants that save Pennsylvania
agriculture, water supplies and wildlife.

ñOften, what gets us out of droughts is tropical moisture,î said
the Penn State Extension water resources specialist. ñIn dry years
such as this one, the hurricane season (generally July through
November) sometimes provides enough rain to recharge groundwater
and stream flows across the state.î

Ironically, according to Swistock, even though Katrina was one
of the largest, most vicious and most damaging hurricanes in
history, it mostly fizzled by the time it got to Pennsylvania.
ñKatrina really only had an impact in the northwestern part of the
state, where we generally got a couple inches of rain,î he said.
ñIn the central and southcentral parts of Pennsylvania, where we
have very dry conditions, some places got a drenching thunderstorm
but others didnÍt see more than a few sprinkles.î

One area where they were probably glad to avoid rains from a
hurricaneÍs remnants was the Pittsburgh area, where historic
flooding occurred last September, caused by the deluge generated
from the remnants of Hurricane Ivan, which caused millions of
dollars of damage in the western portions of the commonwealth.

ñThis whole business of Pennsylvania getting needed moisture
from tropical storms in the fall is a dicey proposition,î said
Swistock. ñAt the end of dry summers such as this one, we need the
rain. But the key, of course, is for the hurricanes to have lost
most of their punch so that they deliver only steady, moderate
rains. When they still pack tropical-storm velocity winds and so
much moisture that they cause flooding, as Ivan did last fall, they
are more damaging than helpful.î

Besides Ivan last year, Pennsylvania has been victimized by
heavy wind and water damages from the remnants of a number of
hurricanes over the years, the most notable of which were Hurricane
Agnes in 1972 and Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

So far 2005 has been an uncommonly dry year. ñMost of
Pennsylvania is several inches below normal rainfall levels,î
Swistock said. ñWe need the tropical moisture because in spots, the
state is really dry. We havenÍt had a general rainstorm all summer
caused by a front coming through. All we have had is thunderstorms
popping up here and there from the heat and humidity.î

If the state doesnÍt receive some prolonged rains from tropical
storms, the dry conditions might negatively affect waterfowl
hunting, according to Kevin Jacobs, waterfowl biologist for the
Pennsylvania Game Commission.

ñA lot of areas that could hold birds might not have enough
water,î he said. “The birds will fly right over those hunting
areas.

ñIt could be a good production year, but if the habitat on the
ground is not there, it wonÍt really matter,î Jacobs added. ñThe
ducks may stop for a day in some places, but if thereÍs no water
and no food, theyÍre not going to stay. You might have a small
window in which to hunt them.î

The waterfowl season is tentatively set to begin Oct. 8 in the
south zone, which takes in all of Pennsylvania south of Interstate
80, and in the northwest zone. A full breakdown of the seasons,
with a map of the various zones, is on the Game CommissionÍs Web
site at www.pgc.state.pa.us.

Breeding census information indicates that there should be at
least an average number of ducks in the skies when those seasons
open, Jacobs said. Only black duck numbers seem in decline.

Pennsylvania had about 23,500 active waterfowlers in 2004.
Waterfowlers did pretty well in Pennsylvania last year, said John
Dunn, the commissionÍs chief waterfowl biologist.

While the number of ducks killed in the Atlantic Flyway as a
whole was down in 2004 to about 1.4 million „ roughly 12.5 percent
fewer than were killed in 2003 „ PennsylvaniaÍs duck harvest was
actually up 11 percent , Dunn said. They killed 138,000 ducks,
including 71,600 mallards, 27,700 wood ducks, 5,600 black ducks and
5,000 green-winged teal.

But duck hunters should hope for prolonged September rains,
according to Swistock, and they might only come from the remnants
of hurricanes. ñWith pop-up thunder storms, either you get lucky or
you donÍt,î he said. ñThere are farms that are very dry and you can
see the corn is suffering, and 20 miles down the road they have
gotten plenty of rain and the crops are doing well.î

Tropical moisture from the remnants of a hurricane or two would
take care of that disparity, according to Swistock, but heÍs not
sure he wants to see another one. ñDespite all the damage from
Katrina, the reality is that it is very early in hurricane season
and we are likely to see more tropical storms, whether we like it
or not,î he said. ñWe need to get some prolonged rain in
Pennsylvania this fall to recharge groundwater across the state so
we donÍt face a drought situation next spring. It would be nice if
weÍd get it without the high winds and floods.î

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