Radar Set up to Warn of Rio Grande Flooding

August 5, 2013

A special radar system is being used to warn residents of potential danger by tracking flash-flood storms headed toward the Rio Grande National Forest in an effort to give the wildfire-ravaged region more time to avoid high water and falling debris.

The National Weather Service said it hopes to provide Rio Grande and Mineral County residents with three levels of alerts. If rainfall reaches two-tenths of an inch in one hour, the weather service will issue a weather statement to inform residents of a potential threat. If it continues to rise, there will be a flood advisory and if it exceeds a half of an inch and hour, the weather service will issue a flash flood warning, which means flooding is imminent and it’s time to evacuate.

The alert system is different than current flood warnings in that it relies on a better radar system.

The new alert system in south-central Colorado was ordered after the West Fork Complex Fire destroyed 171 square miles. The fire, which began June 5 with a lightning strike, has been contained at 66 percent, and continues burning in a wilderness area. Fire spokesman Mike Blakeman said it will most likely burn until the first snow falls on the San Juan Mountains, the Alamosa Valley Courier reported Thursday.

Damage from the fire has been limited to a small pump house east of the Rio Grande Reservoir, but it forced the evacuation of hundreds of visitors and residents from the town of South Fork in June, and the evacuation lasted for a week.

Flooding has been a statewide concern after more than a half inch of rain fell in less than 20 minutes on July 1, causing mud to flow into 20 houses in Manitou Springs and western Colorado Springs. At least three homes were total losses, and at least 11 vehicles were damaged. The downpour closed U.S. 24 for several hours.

On July 10, a thunderstorm sent rocks, mud, debris and running water rushing down part of a canyon in Manitou Springs, leaving some vehicles covered or stuck in mud. The rockslide closed a four-mile stretch of U.S. 24.

In June, the U.S. Agriculture Department provided the state with about nearly $20 million to repair watersheds and mitigate flood potential by using mulching, re-seeding and shoring up water channels.

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