New flood stage levels mean fewer false alarms

By: James Hopkins Email
By: James Hopkins Email

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) - The National Weather Service is hoping people who live along the Colorado River will take flood warnings more seriously this year.

NWS officials say they found they were issuing too many warnings without too much real cause for concern last year and are changing the way they do things.

Lew Wunderwald owns a home on the Colorado River and the Palisade native has seen some bad floods in his time. "Bad flood year in the mid 80's and then again in the mid 90's, 95 I think," he says.

Wunderwald, like many others living along the river, keep a close eye on how high the water gets, especially during the spring. "We watch to see what it's going to do to the low lying lands," he says.

So does the National Weather Service. It's their job to issue not only weather-related, but water-related warnings. "In terms of water and hydrology, we issue flood warnings when water gets up to what we call flood stage," says Bryon Lawrence, Hydrologist with the National Weather Service.

Over the past few years many advisories have gone out when there was no real danger and it has officials concerned they aren't being taken seriously. "They say, well, you issued one last year and nothing happened so I'm not going to pay attention to it this year," says Lawrence. Feeling they were crying wolf by issuing warnings so often, officials decided to change what they consider a flood.

They talked to emergency management, police and local residents, used flood data from past years and even looked at aerial photos. The conclusion they came up with: change the flood stage from 12 feet to 12.5 feet. "This means is that when we issue a warning we're more confident that it's not going to be a false alarm and it will actually be at a point which it can impact lives and property," says Lawrence.

Hopefully residents will listen up. "I think it's a great system if they increase it a little bit so it's truly a risk," says Wunderwald.

The National Weather Service says the lack of snow pack this winter means there will be a relatively quiet river season, with flows near or slightly below normal.

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