TUPPER LAKE - Preliminary U.S. Geological Survey records show that water levels on the Raquette River at Piercefield not only broke a nearly 20-year-old record but reached the 500-year flood status as well.
Reaching the 500-year flood status means there is a 0.2 percent chance of water levels reaching the height they did any given year, according to the USGS.
The gauge that records data for the USGS at Piercefield is located about a half-mile downstream from the Piercefield dam and several miles downstream from Raquette Pond, which flooded the village of Tupper Lake. Data shows the river at the gauge peaked at 13.4 feet on May 1, breaking the previous record of 12.04 feet that was recorded on April 27, 1993.
Water from the Raquette River flows over the Piercefield dam on May 1. About a half-mile downstream from the dam, a U.S. Geological Survey gauge recorded the water level at 13.4 feet this day, breaking a previous record of 12.04 feet.
(Photo courtesy of the Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department)
The records for that location date back to 1908, giving the record more credence.
"The longer the period of data, the more meaningful the statistic is," said USGS Supervisory Hydrologist Gerard Butch. "That's why at Piercefield and North Creek, where there's over a hundred years of record, that's pretty meaningful."
The Hudson River at North Creek peaked at 13.65 feet on April 28, breaking the previous record of 12.14 feet from New Year's Eve in 1948. Data for that gauge goes back to 1907.
Two gauges downstream from Piercefield also recorded historic levels. At South Colton, the gauge hit 11.27 feet, breaking the record of 9.8 from May 11, 1971. At Raymondville, water rose to 8.72 feet, breaking the April 5, 1974 high of 8.4 feet.
Overall, 16 USGS gauges in northern New York recorded historical highs this spring. But in a chart produced by the USGS for the period between April 27 and May 2, only the Piercefield location reached 500-year flood status.
While the Raquette River hit historic highs, the USGS gauges on the West Branch of the AuSable River in Lake Placid and the East Branch of the AuSable in AuSable Forks fell short of past peak levels. In Lake Placid, the river hit 11.42 feet on April 28, falling short of the high of 12.20 feet on Sept. 22, 1938. There are no gauges on the Saranac River near Saranac Lake.
One reason the Piercefield level was so high is that area of the Raquette River is fed by more than one major water system. It is part of the Raquette River chain, which starts at Blue Mountain Lake in the central Adirondacks. Plus, the river receives water from the Bog River and the Cold River.
All of those rivers had higher-than-normal water levels due to a combination of warm temperatures, heavy rains, saturated soils and a massive snowmelt all occurring at once.
In the 48 hours following 7 a.m. on April 26, it rained 2.75 inches in Tupper Lake, according to meteorologist Andy Nash of the National Weather Service in Burlington. It also reached a high of 78 degrees Fahrenheit on April 27. Those factors led to a massive snowmelt.
An estimated 2 to 3 inches of water was released from the High Peaks region from snowmelt between April 26 and 29, Nash said.
To put things in perspective, the average monthly rainfall for April in Tupper Lake is 2.87 inches. This April about 8 inches of rain fell, breaking the previous record of 6.2 inches set in 2002.
"It was all that rain at the end of the month, along with warm temperatures, that melted a lot of snow," Nash said. "It was the quick snowmelt along with the heavy rain that really did us in."