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Widespread flood damage felt in New York, Vermont

 Flash flooding in Orange County.
New York State Police
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Flash flooding in Orange County.

Cleanup efforts are under way after heavy rains caused damaging floods in large parts of the Northeast on Sunday.

Officials say it could take several weeks to repair washed away roads and millions of dollars more in other damage. Flooding in the lower Hudson Valley has been significant. New York Governor Kathy Hochul spoke in the village of Highland Falls in Orange County — which remains under a state of emergency:

"They're calling this a 1,000-year event," said Hochul. "It's only the second time ever that the National Weather Service issued a flash flood emergency; the last time was Hurricane Ida. My friends, this is the new normal."

Hochul said one person in Orange County was swept away by the floodwaters. Mary Alice Molgard is American Red Cross Eastern New York Region Disaster Public Affairs Team Leader.

"There is a shelter that's been opened in Highland Falls in Orange County that was the site of some very major flooding. The site is at the Sacred Heart of Jesus School on Cozzens Avenue in Highland Falls," Molgard said.

Hochul says while relief is coming from the federal government, this latest storm demonstrates the need for major investments in infrastructure upgrades for the future:

"We have $4.2 billion from our Climate Act which is also bringing money to communities to help build up that climate resiliency," said Hochul. "This is my definition of what climate resiliency looks like we have to build up the infrastructure in our small most vulnerable communities."

Officials say the storm has already wrought tens of millions of dollars in damage and canceled hundreds of flights from New York and Boston.

Brian Rahm, director of the New York State Water Resources Institute at Cornell University, says a new weather trend may be in play.

"The idea that we would get more extreme events, where a sort of a larger amount of precipitation is expected on a fewer number of days, is something that we've been, something that has been predicted," Rahm said. "And so we can expect to have more events like this. But that's not to say that, you know, this will be happening all summer long. But on the occasions when we do get heavy rain, it's likely that that will be particularly heavy rain, compared to what we've seen in the past."

The New York State Mesonet’s Somers site, located in northern Westchester County, set a new 24-hour precipitation record of 5.96 inches, while also setting a new one-hour precipitation record of 2.17 inches.

In Dutchess County, the Mesonet’s Dover Plains site also set a new 24-hour precipitation record of 5.39 inches and its Beacon site set a new three-hour precipitation record of 3.13 inches.

Nick Bassill is Director of Research and Development at the University at Albany Center of Excellence. The meteorologist says weather predictors knew the storm was coming but were surprised where it inflicted the most damage.

"All the way back, midweek last week, we were talking about that there was a likelihood of maybe some extreme rainfall, somewhere in the northeast, on Sunday and Monday," Bassill said. "But really, all the way up until Saturday night, just, you know, 12, 16, 18 hours before the event, the expectation was that most of that really heavy rain was going to be in the Catskills, the Albany area, not the southern Hudson Valley."

Bassill says in the greater scheme of all things weather, Sunday's storm wasn't out of the ordinary.

"This is obviously an awful event, but we pretty much routinely see something like this somewhere in New York or the Northeast, at least once or twice a summer. So, you know, it's not that this exact spot should have expected to get this, but somewhere in the Northeast should," said Bassill .

More rain is in the forecast for the lower Hudson Valley. Bassil adds that one of the things that with climate change comes heavier rainfall.

"The waters just off the coast, from New Jersey, New England, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, all of those along the Atlantic Ocean, are well above average right now, they're a couple degrees above average," said Bassill . "And obviously, you've probably heard a lot in the news about how the oceans are very warm and spinning the, you know, global average temperature records and that kind of stuff. But warmer water also means that the air above it can hold more moisture. During an event like this, you know, lower Hudson Valley, it's pretty close to the ocean, and you're getting wind off the ocean, that air is coming in with more moisture. So if it has more moisture, it doesn't take a meteorologist to figure out if you have more moisture in the air, you can probably get more rain from the air.

Several roads remain closed in Orange County. Amtrak service was temporarily suspended between Albany and New York City due to severe weather that affected Metro-North Railroad.

Jackie Bray is New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Commissioner:

"If you're in your vehicle and the water starts rising rapidly get out of your vehicle and seek higher ground," Bray said. "Number two, if you are if you drive it don't drive into the water, two feet of water can sweep your car away can lift and float your car. So even if you think it looks safe, 'Turn Around, Don't Drown.' And then finally, if you're in any area that has any flood potential, make sure to plan ahead, have a plan with every member of your family, every member of your household so that you know how to get out and go to higher ground and do it quickly."

A statewide state of emergency is in effect in Vermont, where some campers had to be evacuated. Governor Phil Scott delivered his own briefing Monday morning:

"This is an all hands on deck response. We are closely coordinating with federal partners. I just got off the phone with FEMA Administrator Criswell who offered full support from the federal government," Scott said.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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