Officials slide into debris flow preparations

Greg Masse
Post Independent Staff

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The predicted threat of a heavy monsoon rain season this year has emergency officials planning for damaging mudslides, but hoping they don’t happen.

At a meeting on mudslides and flooding at the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office Thursday, Andrea Holland-Sears, a Forest Service hydrologist and member of the Mud and Flood Task Force, said some long-term weather forecasts show that the 2003 monsoon season will be more active than in 2002.

If this happens, mudslides could again be a problem for residents who live in the Mitchell Creek valley – where most of last year’s problems occurred – and beyond.

Glenwood Springs fire chief Mike Piper said his department will be ready to respond to any rain-triggered problems.

“It’s the same story as last year,” he said. “If it floods, we will come.”

The mud and flood emergency response plan has changed little since last summer, when, after the Coal Seam Fire, three separate rainstorms mobilized soils on fire-ravaged hills and sent residents packing.

The plan is to monitor the weather, alert endangered residents, notify all emergency responders, respond to the emergency and provide shelter for residents if needed.

The task force is considering whether to move the southernmost Remote Automated Weather Station, a self-contained meteorological base also known as RAWS. The station could also possibly be recalibrated to give emergency crews more response time in case of a large rainstorm.

As they are calibrated now, the stations automatically warn police and emergency crews of heavy rain, if 0.10 inch of rain falls within 10 minutes, by broadcasting a warning over emergency radio frequencies.

But by the time any of the RAWS stations were triggered last year, evacuations were already in full swing.

Because of this, the South Canyon RAWS station might be moved further south and east – the direction from which most thunderstorms came last year – so it could detect rain earlier and give crews more time to evacuate people. The station also might be reset to broadcast a warning at a much lower rainfall threshold.

If the station is set up in the path of where storms are expected to come from, “we might get an idea of what’s coming,” Holland-Sears said.

She said while much of the larger debris came down from the hills during last summer’s storms, bigger rainstorms could bring down even more mud, rocks, trees and other debris.

“To put it in perspective, the rainfall events we had here last year were not unusual,” she said. “A greater storm, which is what we might get this year, could send more debris down.”

Contact Greg Masse: 945-8515, ext. 511

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