Department of Environmental Conservation

D E C banner

Ice Jam Flooding

Resources for Local Officials and Emergency Managers

DEC's Role During Ice Jam Emergencies

From March 1948 through September 2018, New York has had 1,712 ice jam events statewide. An ice jam event is defined as an accumulation of ice at a given location in a river which restricts the flow of water. Even through ice jam events occur frequently in New York, the decision to take any action is a local responsibility. If local municipalities or counties require assistance by DEC, they should call 1-877-457-5680.

DEC drone captures an ice jam emergency
response in Warrensburg, NY

Local municipalities should understand that DEC does not have direct statutory authority to take emergency action for the alleviation of flooding outside the limits of a federally constructed flood control project. However, if ice jam assistance is requested by local officials, DEC staff, subject to availability, can investigate an ice jam and provide some technical advice or guidance to village, town, city and county officials or other state agencies.

If there is a developing ice jam emergency, a DEC investigator may make a preliminary assessment regarding the type of ice jam, its cause and its damage potential. Possible actions will then be discussed with the local officials. Assessments will consider evacuation needs, possible breaching or diversion options and regulatory requirements.

United States Army Corps of Engineers' (USACE) Role During Ice Jam Emergencies

The USACE ice jam policy states that removal of an ice jam is a local responsibility and should only be undertaken as a last resort action. However, if federal help is requested by local authorities, the Corps can provide technical advice and assistance. If an immediate life or property situation exists due to an ice jam the Corps can provide flood-fighting assistance or advance measures as per Public Law 84-99, the USACE Emergency Management Authority (leaves DEC website). The Ice Jams and Advance Measures Fact Sheet (leaves DEC website) from Philadelphia USACE District has lists common questions and answers for USACE ice jam emergency assistance.

The Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Lab (CRREL) in New Hampshire maintains a group of experts who can answer most ice jam questions. CRREL works through the Corps Districts except for quick short calls seeking advice over the phone. To request CRREL emergency assistance for a specific ice jam issue the Corps District Emergency Management office needs to be contacted. The geographical coverage area and contact number for these Corps Districts is below:

NYS Map showing boundary of Corps Districts
Map of NYS Flood Protection Projects and Corps Districts

Ice Jam Assistance within New York State from USACE Districts

District Area Covered Emergency Management Phone #
New York District Hudson River Watershed 917-790-8500
Buffalo District Great Lakes Watershed 716-879-4160
Baltimore District Susquehanna River Watershed 410-962-2013
Philadelphia District Delaware River Watershed 215-656-6500, then press 9
Pittsburgh District Allegany River Watershed 412-841-7492
New England District Housatonic River Watershed 978-318-8274

In 2017, CRREL provided educational seminars on Ice Jams across NYS, funded by the USACE Silver Jackets Program. Information about Silver Jackets and other educational CRREL Ice Jam seminars, similar to the seminars given in NYS, can be found on the Silver Jackets Wyoming Team website found on the Silver Jackets Webinars and Presentations (leaves DEC website) webpage.

USACE Ice Jam Website

The USACE Ice Jam website (leaves DEC website) consists of two components: the Oracle Ice Jam Database (IJDB) and the Clearinghouse. Information provided on the website is used by USACE, NOAA, and state and local agencies for emergency response.

  • Data in the Ice Jam Database may be viewed via an Web accessible interactive map using map-based queries or viewed as tabulated data which can be queried using text-base tools. This database is maintained by the Ice Engineering Group at CRREL and currently consists of over 22,600 records from across the US.
  • The Ice Jam Clearinghouse contains several tools and links for accessing information about both historic and current ice jams, and related information about the processes involved in the formation of an ice jam.

Additional Winter Weather and Ice Information

A winter weather forecast page (leaves DEC website) compiled by the National Weather Service lists current hazards including ice accumulation forecasts.

The National Weather Service also has an Ice Jam Reference and Trouble Spots (leaves DEC website) document under "Ice Jams" on their Albany, NY "Hydrology: local information" webpage that is specific to the Albany Hydrologic Service Area. The document provides general rules on weather conditions most likely to cause either a freeze-up or break-up ice jam and lists locations where ice jams regularly reoccur.