Tenants of Cambridge Commons were alerted late Wednesday afternoon to pack some of their belongings and prepare to leave their apartments as the raging waters of the Wyomissing Creek threatened to spill over its banks during the passage of the remnants of Hurricane Ida.
Like many Berks County residents, they were watching the heavy rain, wondering if danger was lurking as the hours passed, with the storm eventually totaling about 5 to 7 inches in most spots in Berks.
Other Berks residents remained without power on Thursday. Met-Ed was working to restore service, and the outage was down to about 4,000 customers late in the afternoon from at least 8,000 on Wednesday night.
Cambridge Commons residents moved their vehicles to higher ground along Mill Road in Wyomissing and waited nervously for further instructions from property management.
Several hours later, around 9 p.m., it was time to mobilize. The creek water had started to infiltrate some of the buildings closest to the creek and was creeping up the hill to the next row of buildings.
Qazi Isar-ul-Haq, who lives with his wife on the more elevated side of the complex, watched several of his neighbors on the opposite side of the interior parking lot carrying their luggage onto a shuttle bus that took them to an emergency shelter at Wilson High School.
The American Red Cross Greater Pennsylvania Regional announced shortly before 9:30 p.m. Wednesday that it had established the emergency shelter for the unspecified number of evacuees from Cambridge Commons.
Two women in their 20s who were among the evacuees said they decided to stay in a hotel rather than go to the shelter.
Asked to describe the flooding as they waited for management to unlock their apartment Thursday morning, one of them responded, “It was awful.”
“When we left it (floodwater) was coming in the back of the building and all around,” her roommate said. “They (management) did the best they could. With the creek back there, there wasn’t much they could do.”
Borough Fire Chief Colin Hackman said fire officials recommended to Cambridge Commons shortly after 5 p.m. Wednesday, as the creek came close to spilling over its banks, that the nearest three buildings needed to be evacuated.
The department wasn’t involved in the evacuation and no watercraft were needed, he said.
As quickly as the creek spilled over its banks, it seemed, the water receded. There was barely a puddle in the parking lot Thursday shortly after sunrise, and the ducks were floating and quacking in the creek, which was flowing within its banks.
It was reminiscent of the June 20, 2019, flood that followed 5 inches of rain the previous night.
During that storm, some Cambridge Commons residents had to be taken to higher ground by rescue boat.
The 2019 flood caused more widespread damage, washing out a pedestrian bridge over the Wyomissing Creek at the West Reading Playground and toppling trees on the grounds of Reading Public Museum, where a memorial bench was washed away.
Although Wednesday’s rainfall exceeded the June 2019 deluge, it came over a longer period of time and didn’t appear to cause as much damage.
Aside from some washed-out trail sections, Wyomissing Borough Manager Pat Brandenburg said, the borough as a whole fared surprisingly well given the amount of rain in that part of Berks County.
Elsewhere in Berks, a few roads were closed Thursday as repair and cleanup work was performed. Some schools were closed and others opened late.
Sunshine and rising rivers
Following Ida’s passage, Thursday was a sunny, cloudless day in Berks, belying the fact that some homeowners, including those on Water Street near Route 61 in Muhlenberg Township, had water in their basement to contend just as they did in the June 2019 storm and other recent storms that caused Laurel Run creek to spilled over its banks on the way to the Schuylkill River.
Creeks weren’t the only concern.
Throughout the day, Reading Fire Department personnel kept close watch on the river, which crested at just over 17 feet midday Thursday.
The deepest floodwater was at Riverfront Drive and South Second Street, near Reading Area Community College, which was closed, and Penske Truck Leasing, city Emergency Management Coordinator Jeremy Searfoss said.
The fire department earlier Wednesday had installed barricades to keep vehicles away from the areas along river. They were removed by 3:30 p.m. as the river began returning to normal as quickly as it had swelled.
The river’s crest at Berne in Tilden Township occurred before daybreak at nearly 16 feet in what the weather service calls “moderate flood stage.” It was unclear if there was any damage.
Downstream in Norristown and Philadelphia there was significant flooding.
In Lancaster County, Route 222 was closed Thursday at the Brownstown exit with the flooding of the Cocalico Creek until the northbound lanes were reported open about 11:30 a.m. Southbound remained closed.
Some of the blockbuster final rainfall totals from Tropical Rainstorm Ida were available Thursday.
Officially, at Reading Regional Airport, 4.5 inches was recorded on the automated equipment, setting a date record by an inch.
It also made Wednesday the 15th rainiest day in the database for Berks, which is 152 years.
Other measurements in inches included:
• 7.02: Scarlets Mill
• 6.25: Gibraltar
• 6.25: Shartlesville
• 6.17: Hopewell Park
• 6.07: Meadow Glen
• 6.04: Bernville
• 5.93: Alburtis
• 5.74: near Fritz Island
• 5.60: Mohnton (1)
• 5.56: Lincoln Park
• 5.50: Cumru Twp. building
• 5.47: Highlands at Wyomissing
• 5.40: Cornwall Terrace
• 5.38: West Reading
• 5.28: Vinemont
• 5.26: Mohnton (2)
• 5.12: Reiffton
• 4.98: New Morgan
• 4.86: Fleetwood
• 4.85: Schuylkill River at Penn Street
• 4.74: Muhlenberg Park
• 4.25: Boyertown
• 4.04: Blue Marsh Lake
A flood warning from the National Weather Service expired widely at 9:45 a.m. Thursday but remained in place for the Schuylkill River corridor through the day.
This is the list of days with a minimum of 4 inches of rain recorded at an official site in Berks County since 1869:
• 6.75: Oct. 8, 2005, tropical moisture
• 6.73: Oct. 3, 1869, Saxby Gale
• 6.49: June 23, 1972, Agnes
• 6.25: Sept. 9, 1987, TD 8
• 6.08: Nov. 25, 1950, The Great Appalachian Storm
• 5.89: Aug. 2, 2020, thunderstorms
• 5.32: July 12, 2004, tropical moisture
• 5.28: July 21, 1916
• 5.25: Oct. 21, 1873
• 5.15: Sept. 30, 2010
• 5.04: Aug. 17, 1919
• 4.78: Sept. 16, 1999, Floyd
• 4.61: May 21, 1894
• 4.52: Aug. 22, 1888
• 4.50: Sept. 1, 2021 Ida remnants
• 4.47: Oct. 12, 1897
• 4.40: Apr. 18, 1870
• 4.08: May 22, 1942
• 4.08: Aug. 22, 1994
“The quantity of one-day rainfalls of at least 4.00″ suggests a frequency of one or two a decade,” wrote Berks weather historian Jeffrey R. Stoudt, founder of the Berks Area Rainfall Networks who runs the Lincoln Park observation site, in an email. “And most have occurred during the three-month aggregate of August-September-October.”
The official site has been at the airport since early 1999. Before that it was mostly in downtown Reading in the U.S. Weather Bureau era until being at Met-Ed in Muhlenberg Township and UGI Utilities Inc. in Ontelaunee Township for a nearly 30-year period before the airport.
Stoudt said the passage of Ida was reminiscent of other tropical systems on the march.
“Floyd was an Atlantic Ocean hurricane that tracked northwestward into the Middle Atlantic states,” he said. The rainfall from Floyd is on the list.
Another one just missed the list.
“Ivan from 17-18 Sept. 2004,” Stoudt said. “Ivan was a Gulf of Mexico hurricane that made landfall then tracked quite similarly as Ida. Rainfall results in Berks were similar. And there was more NW and less SE.”
The database represents the longest continuous stretch of records available.
The rainfall totals are from Stoudt’s networks, the MesoWest system and the CoCoRaHS collaborative.
Pleasant days ahead
And, suddenly there’s a feel of autumn in the air.
There were dry conditions Thursday with a northwest wind. The temperature reached at least 72 degrees but there was an outage of the weather service’s transmission of data so the high temperature was not yet available.
The low Thursday morning was 59 degrees shortly before 7 a.m.
AccuWeather expects a similar day Friday. Expect lows Thursday and Friday morning in the 50s.
After that a little warmer on the weekend.
There’s a slim chance of showers on Sunday night and a greater chance on Wednesday. There are no 90-degree days on the horizon, AccuWeather says.
(Assistant editor-news Keith Mayer contributed to this story.)
Source: Berkshire mont