CENTRALIA, Wash. – For survivors of natural disasters, the words “it could have been much worse” are comforting.
In hopes of mitigating the worst, flood-prone regions including the Chehalis River Basin and Boulder, Colo., have put their trust and money into state-of-the-art early warning systems.
Such a system proved its effectiveness in September during an epic flood in Boulder.
On Sept. 12, after days of heavy rain, a flash flood hit a 200-mile stretch of mountain canyons and communities from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins. The region was ravaged by life-threatening flooding for more than a week.
But local rain and stream gauges performed as promised, according to the National Hydrologic Warning Council.
The gauges, along with other tools such as National Weather Service’s Doppler radar and satellite imagery, helped officials track the most dangerous conditions. Emergency managers used the information to warn threatened neighborhoods and initiate life-saving evacuations, according to the Warning Council.
As of Sept. 23, officials had confirmed seven fatalities and three missing. The missing are presumed dead. Damage to homes, businesses and infrastructure was severe.
But, it could have been much worse.
In 1976, more than 140 people died and more than 150 were injured in a flash flood in the Big Thompson Canyon during Colorado’s Centennial Weekend, according to the Warning Council.
In the aftermath of that disaster, local communities dedicated themselves to finding flood-damage solutions.
They improved floodplain management policy and invested in flood control structures, public education, emergency preparedness and flood warning system technologies.
Today, more than 230 rainfall and water level gauges guard the Colorado communities.
Lewis County has made a similar investment.
Soon after the 2007 flood, local officials pledged to create a better warning system.
In January 2008, Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, advocated for state funding for flood mitigation projects, including money for an improved flood warning system.
In 2010, having received funding, the Flood Authority began the needed upgrades.
Completed in 2012, the improved Early Warning System has 10 new precipitation gauges, 10 new temperature sensors and two additional stream gauges.
And, through the Early Warning System website, rain, stream, reservoir, wind, temperature and other weather information, as well as road closure information, is available to the public in near real-time.
The Flood Authority this year will spend about $130,000 to maintain the system. That cost is distributed among local jurisdictions and is prorated based on population and historical flood data.
Other groups, including the United States Geological Survey, TransAlta, the Department of Ecology and the National Weather Service, maintain an additional 31 gauges throughout the basin.