All jammed up

CAMMAL – George Sweigart knows a glacier when he sees one, or at least what resembles one.

Jagged-edged ice rising 9 feet above the banks of Pine Creek is mimicking the ice age formations the 79-year-old man saw when panning for gold in Alaska three decades ago.

“That’s what I call it,” Sweigart said of the huge ice jam covering portions of the creek that runs from between the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon in the north to 87 miles south where it dumps into the West Branch of the Susquehanna River.

The ice jam had spanned the creek, at places, some 80 yards across, broke up, leaving a wall of Arctic-looking ice.

George Durrwachter, a retired orthodontist, whose homestead was built 75 years ago along the creek, a retirement home he frequently checks on, said ice carved the creek’s course millenniums ago.

“That’s what formed this valley back in the ice age,” he said.

“It’s been most impressive this year,” Durrwachter said, remembering the ice jams over the years, but none quite as spectacular.

The most recent anomaly happened as ice froze in pieces as temperatures dropped below zero for several days in January. Some of the ice floated down the creek. Then, as water temperature rose above 32 degrees, it caused the center part of the ice to melt and a flow occurred leaving the banks looking almost as a glacial deposit.

Durrwachter took photographs to demonstrate the thickness of the ice remaining on the banks.

He suspects the ice jam was caused by the ice that formed about a mile below the village, at a spot known as “Miller’s dead water.”

“That is a large hole in Pine Creek that lies south of Mount Lebo, which shades this part of the creek, and the ice always got thicker there,” he said. When Durrwachter was young, he recalled an ice house at a farm and 18-inch ice chunks cut out of the creek for use over the spring and summer.

“It takes a header of water from Cammal to move this ice out,” he said.

Durrwachter remembered seeing ice in the past reach up to Old Pine Creek Road north of Fisher Lane a couple of times.

“A couple of islands in between Miller’s dead water and the village hold the ice back,” he said.

During the Great Depression the Works Projects Administration built a retaining wall along the creek in 1934 and 1935

as a public works project. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration created jobs for thousands of unemployment men and women in public works projects across the U.S.

“The wall has maintained many ice jams over my lifetime,” he said.

Based on calculation – with water flows measured at the U.S. Geological Survey gauge at Cedar Run – the marks on the stone wall gave him water levels equal to Cedar Run levels.

“The creek is following its normal rate,” he said. It was less than 2 feet high, however, when the ice raises in order to gain enough force to push the flow, the ice forms grew about 9 feet on the wall, leaving 7 feet of ice remaining on the bank

Durrwatcher’s next concern is a quick melt or heavy rain, which he said could cause flooding.

The National Weather Service is just as uneasy about the unpredictability of the ice jams on streams and rivers.

“It’s something we’re keeping and eye on and the hope is it will melt but whenever this kind of ice forms there is a concern of ice jams and sudden melt causing flooding,” said Craig Evangeo, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in State College.

While it doesn’t appear the days ahead will hold any spikes in temperatures or rain showers to cause such melting, temperatures may go above the freezing mark.

Evanego said, as of last week, the weather service had not had any reports of serious problems related to ice jams on streams or rivers, but that flows had been impeded on the Susquehanna River as far south as Lancaster County.

“Volunteers keep an eye on the ice jams to see if there are sudden rises,” he said. “We have a network of ice observers.”

Evanego said he could understand how the ice formation resembles a glacier but that would a misnomer to a geologist.

“Glaciers form over thousands of years and are kind of semi-permanent and don’t melt back in the summertime,” he said.