Initial Publication Date: April 11, 2014

Flooding from Tropical Storm Lee in Columbia County, Pennsylvania

Jennifer Jean Haney, Environmental, Geographical, and Geological Sciences, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania


In September 2011, the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee dumped significant amounts of rain over nearly all of central and eastern Pennsylvania resulting in some of the worst flooding in the region's history. The most severe flooding affected municipalities along the Susquehanna River including Bloomsburg, Danville, Wilkes-Barre, Sunbury, and Harrisburg. President Obama issued a major disaster declaration for the state of Pennsylvania on September 12, and it is estimated that over $1 billion dollars in losses resulted from the impacts of Tropical Storm Lee.

Columbia County, located in eastern Pennsylvania, has a population of approximately 67,000 people. The town of Bloomsburg, the county seat, experiences major flooding in areas along the Susquehanna River (south), Fishing Creek (north and west), and at the confluence of the Susquehanna River and Fishing Creek. The Susquehanna River in Bloomsburg crested at over 32.75 feet making Tropical Storm Lee the highest flood on record. A Geographic Information Systems analysis estimated that 2,400 structures may have been damaged by flood waters.

This case study discusses the vulnerability of Columbia County, Pennsylvania to flood hazards and identifies opportunities for increasing disaster resilience. It also discusses the social and economic impacts of flooding from Tropical Storm Lee, county and local municipalities' responses to the flooding from Tropical Storm Lee, lessons learned, and implications for strengthening emergency preparedness and existing flood hazard mitigation measures.

Individuals with expertise/responsibilities in the following areas have helped create the case study:
  • Columbia County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director – Larry Lahiff
  • Columbia County E911/GIS Coordinator – Timothy Murphy
  • Maintenance Supervisor – Wade Mays
  • Deputy Director of Emergency Management Agency (EMA) – Jim Cunningham
  • Director of Public Safety – Irene Miller (2011)
  • Deputy Director of 911 – Brenda Remaley
  • Columbia County Chief Clerk – Gail Kipp
  • Columbia County Commissioners – Chris Young, David Kovach, Rich Ridgway

Key teaching points:
  • The importance of understanding Columbia County's geography contributing to flooding.
  • The impacts of flooding from Tropical Storm Lee on Columbia County, particularly the Town of Bloomsburg and neighboring municipalities.
  • The importance of understanding the coordination for emergency response among multiple offices and positions in Columbia County and challenges for effective response in Tropical Storm Lee.
  • Opportunities for increasing disaster resilience and flood hazard mitigation measures.

How this example is used in the classroom:
This example is used in an upper-level Environmental Risks and Hazards course to supplement discussion on emergency preparedness and response and hazards mitigation.


Supporting Files

Flood Inundation Map (Acrobat (PDF) PRIVATE FILE 1MB Apr11 14)