The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

May 8, 2013

Lightning chases 240 Envirothon students

By Ashley Wislock
The Daily Item

— SUNBURY — When Lexie Danilowicz, a senior at Mount Carmel Area High School, saw that it would be raining during the Envirothon on Wednesday, she didn’t think much of it, since it had rained during the event before.

“We’re used to it,” she said. “As long as they provide us with a shelter, we’re OK.”

But shortly after Danilowicz and the other nearly 240 students finished their first round of testing, lightning caused the event to be postponed for the first time in the Envirothon’s more than 20-year history.

“If it’s just rain, that’s one thing, but with the lightning, it’s not safe,” said Craig Bingman, one of the event’s organizers.

The competition, held at the Shikellamy State Park overlook, was offered to ninth- through 12th-graders in Columbia, Montour, Northumberland, Snyder and Union counties. This year, 46 teams from 17 schools are competing.

The students huddled in groups during the early morning rain, taking shelter under one of the park’s pavilion before heading to their first of six rotations. But when lightning and thunder kicked in, organizers decided to call the event off. Students will now complete the tests in class and return them to the Envirothon committee by a certain date to determine a winner, who will attend the state competition, Bingman said.

The Envirothon normally is an event that brings students together to experience nature while testing their skills, but Wednesday’s rain was too up-close-and-personal, Bingman said.

“With the lightning, we just don’t trust it,” he said.

And organizers had good reason to worry.

A fire at an apartment building Wednesday morning in Shamokin Dam was blamed on a lightning strike, and the National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for most of the Valley at midday Wednesday.

The Valley was in a “sweet spot” that received anywhere from 1 to 2.5 inches of rain from Tuesday night through Wednesday afternoon, said meteorologist Erik Pindrock.

At the Selinsgrove airport, 2.38 inches of rain in 15 hours was recorded, and in Milton, 1.5 inches fell, Pindrock said.

“That’s certainly quite a lot of rain,” he said.

The average amount of rain in Selisngrove is 3.70 inches for the entire month of May, Pindrock said. Getting more than half of that in 15 hours can be dangerous, he said.

“In terms of the Susquehanna River, since we haven’t had a whole lot of rain recently, there’s no immediate concerns,” he said. “It’s mostly with smaller creeks and streams that are going to rise above their banks.”

The rain this week is not over yet, with more expected this morning, though not “as rainy as (Wednesday),” Pindrock said.

Friday evening, another storm system will be rolling into the area, Pindrock said.

“I think ‘unsettled’ would be a good word for (this week’s weather),” he said.

Wednesday’s rainfall brings the year-to-date precipitation total to more than 11 inches, with the average being more than 13 inches.