We’ve had many questions about our May 1 flood. Among them: why did we sustain so much damage? The short answer: it was man vs. nature, a race against the clock, and more water than anyone predicted. We take you back to that day, one we’ve been reliving ever since.
3:38 pm: The Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service at NOAA forecasts that the Schuylkill will crest at 12.1 feet at 8 am on May 1. Historically a pumping station, our building is designed to bring water inside and we are well prepared should flooding occur. We make careful written calculations about how high to move our equipment if needed.
4:30 pm: Seventeen teachers arrive for a workshop on our curriculum, Understanding the Urban Watershed, as part of the Philadelphia Science Festival.
5:30 pm: As water from the Schuylkill creeps in, staff members double-check the NOAA predictions. Based on careful calculations, we decide where to move our apparatus so they’re out of harm’s way.
6:30 – 10 pm: Our staff works tirelessly moving our equipment, water seeps in, and conditions are becoming unsafe. We continue to check NOAA. An exhausted team leaves around 10 pm.
11 pm: Within the last hour, NOAA predicts that the Schuylkill will crest at 12.8 feet at 8 am. Even at this new level, we are confident that our items will be safe.
3 – 4 am: High tide occurs at 3:14 am, coinciding with peak flow (91,000 cubic feet per second) and height of the Schuylkill, which crests at 4 am at 13.91 feet. It is over a foot higher and four hours earlier than originally predicted.
9 am to 5 pm: With tears and heavy hearts, we begin to assess the damage. We find that the water was higher than where some items were placed, and its force knocked down shelving storing equipment above the water level. Despite our best efforts, we sustained significant damage to electronics, fish tanks, microscopes, files and other materials for our education programs.
Like millions of others who have experienced flooding in their lifetimes, we know that ours is a story about the unpredictability and mighty force of the river and the best intentions and actions of dedicated individuals. We are grateful that everyone is safe.