A storm tonight, floods tomorrow?

Apr 1 2011 - 10:03pm

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BRIGHAM CITY -- A storm forecast for tonight and Sunday has emergency coordinators in Box Elder County on edge, but instead of waiting to see how much water flows down Box Elder Creek, they are taking action now. 

Leaders from Brigham City, Willard, Perry and Box Elder County held a special meeting Thursday with Brian McInerney, a hydrologist from the National Weather Service, who said the La Nina weather pattern will make it tougher to accurately forecast the weather in the next several weeks.

However, current data collected does indicate that higher than average snowpack in the mountains, combined with already-saturated soils, highly increases the odds of flooding.

"Saturday night will be a good litmus test to see how the streams respond," said McInerney, "but this will just be round one of many over the next 10 weeks."

Brigham City EMS Director Jim Buchanan is already taking steps to minimize the potential damage. Buchanan and a group of volunteers have walked the banks of Box Elder Creek from its origin in the canyon to its end near 1200 West and cleaned out debris in the creek that could increase the likelihood of flooding.

In addition, Buchanan has identified areas in Brigham City where the probability of flooding is highest. Homeowners in these areas have been notified and sandbags were placed there before this weekend's storm.

If all indicators are correct, this weekend's storm is expected to bring up to an inch of rain. But the unpredictability of La Nina means the storm could just as easily bring heavier rains.

"The only thing we can't control is Mother Nature," said Buchanan.

Buchanan and the other emergency coordinators there went through the resources each has available in the event of a flood, and the Brigham City certified emergency response team has organized an April 16 work session to fill additional sandbags.

The other cities and towns were also encouraged to begin keeping track of volunteer hours and equipment used now, because if flooding is bad enough for the area to be declared a state of emergency, it is easier to keep track from the beginning than to go back and attempt to reconstruct that information.

Nancy Barr, a loss mitigation expert for the state of Utah, also councils government leaders to be sure that all maintenance records are thorough and complete, and to be very familiar with their insurance policies. These records will be critical if FEMA is called in to assist.

"They will go through those with a fine-tooth comb," she said.

In the meantime, Buchanan spoke with Kevin Christensen, the emergency response coordinator from the Bear River Health Department.

While damage control and rebuilding are an instant worry, flooding also increases health concerns. Christensen said it is extremely critical that everyone in contact with flood waters be very conscious of good hygiene.

Christensen said flood waters are often contaminated with chemicals, pesticides and/or sewage, so handwashing is critical for anyone who is exposed to that water. He passed out tiny bottles of hand sanitizer gel that would easily fit in a pocket while working.

"It not the best way, but it is better than nothing," he said.

Christensen also cautioned homeowners to make sure their 72-hour kits and other food storage are kept off the floor and to use caution if those items are needed. "If the container is compromised, throw it away," he said.

Displaced rodents and increased breeding grounds for mosquitoes are additional health hazards commonly seen with flooding.

The Box Elder County Sheriff's Office is also encouraging everyone who no longer has a landline telephone to register their cell phone numbers with CityWatch so that if there is a flooding event in their area, the reverse 911 program can be used to notify everyone in a targeted area. Cell phones and VoIP phone numbers are not automatically included in this system, but can be added on request by visiting the emergency notification page at www.boxeldercounty.org.

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