Report: growing flood potential


Courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

This map, produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminsitration (NOAA) shows flood probability across Wyoming. The Purple color at Saratoga indicates a moderate to high (60 to 80 percent) chance of flood. Variations in the weather such as rainfall and rapid warming can increase flood potential.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has issued final river flow estimates for the Upper North Platte River area of Carbon County, and the estimates place Saratoga at flood level, but not as severely as past flood years.

The numbers, published by NOAA, estimate that the North Platte River at Saratoga will peak between 12,000 and 12,500 cubic feet per second (cfs). The flood flow for the river at Saratoga is between 10,500 and 11,000 cfs. The towns of Encampment and Riverside will see flow rates that are on the cusp of flooding, with those towns expecting between 2,500 and 3,000 cfs. Flood flow level in Encampment is 2,800 to 3,000 cfs.

While the river will be at flood flow levels in Saratoga, the estimates place this spring's flow levels lower than recent flood years. In 2010, peak flow was 16,100 cfm according to NOAA documents. In 2011, flow was 16,700 cfm, and in 2014 it was 14,700 cfm.

But the estimates produced by NOAA only include runoff from snowpack in the mountains, Jim Fahey of NOAA said in an email. Rapidly warming temperatures can increase flow, as can rainfall.

John Zeiger, Carbon County Emergency Manager, said that in response to flooding up in Lander and other parts of Fremont County, emergency managers have been following the flood potential closely. After this weekend's storms, it seems more likely that there will be an event like 2014 on the North Platte, he said.

"It's looking more probable that we're going to see another 2014 event on the North Platte," Zeiger said.

Zeiger said at the state and county level, organizations are prepared to act in the case of a flood. "The state is ready. They already have their advance assessment teams ready to come in," Zeiger said.

The National Guard has units on standby, Zeiger said, and guard units from Gillette had already responded to flooding in Lander and other parts of Fremont County.

Zeiger said evacuation routes had been planned. Those on the east side of the river would be temporarily housed at the cemetery, and those on the west side of the river would shelter at the community center, unless the flooding were so bad that it was inundated, in which case those people would be housed at Saratoga High School (SHS).

Zeiger estimated that there are about 30,000 empty sandbags at the county shop, and that sandbags behind the football field were in good enough shape to where they could be inserted into new bags and used if need be. The county also has sandbags on reserve at Elk Mountain, Medicine Bow and near Baggs that could be brought in, he said.

"We have a semi-trailer with Hesco Barrier and empty sandbags out at the highway shop that is ready to deploy anywhere in Carbon County that would need them," he added.

Hesco Barrier is a metal cage that is lined with plastic then filled with rocks or gravel which allows a small crew to build barriers much more quickly than with sandbags.

For personal preparation, Zeiger recommends those near the river have a go bag. On its website, The American Red Cross says a go bag should contain a minimum of three days of water and food, any needed medications, a flashlight, battery or crank-powered radio, a multi-purpose tool, a blanket, spare cash, important personal papers and sanitary items.

The chances are high (for a flood), but things can change," Zeiger said. "Mother nature is going to do what mother nature will do."

"But right now, that's what they're planning for."


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