Friday, March 30, 2012

High water expected this weekend

County emergency official urges caution

Express Staff Writer

High water flows down the Big Wood River in 2008. Photo by Willy Cook

Blaine County residents may not have to break out their sandbags again this weekend, but warming temperatures and heavy rainfall are set to cause high water in much of the region over the next several days.

The National Weather Service issued a hazardous weather outlook for the Sawtooth Mountains and the Big Wood River region on Thursday, calling for a "strong surge of rain and mountain snowfall" on Thursday night, with snow levels climbing beginning today.

"Rain on top of snowpack along with melting even at higher elevations will lead to water rises even on some mainstream rivers by the first part of next week," the report states.

Snow levels stood at 6,500 feet as of press time Thursday, but are expected to rise to 8,500 feet on Saturday as temperatures rise into the high 50s.

The report states that Valley Creek near Stanley is a special area of concern, as Stanley is expected to receive almost 2.5 inches of rain over the weekend.

Blaine County Disaster Services Coordinator Chuck Turner said the region is unlikely to see flooding of the sort that hit the valley two weeks ago, when Bellevue residents dealt with snow runoff from Slaughterhouse Canyon that couldn't be absorbed by still-frozen ground.

"Right now, we don't expect flooding, we expect high water," Turner said, adding that the Big Wood River is expected to double in volume by Sunday morning.

However, the water's total depth is expected to peak at 4.35 feet—well above its current depth at just less than 2 feet, but well below flood stage of 6 feet.

But that doesn't mean the river isn't dangerous, Turner said.

"If you like your kids and pets, keep them away from that water," he said. "It's going to be moving pretty fast. You have to take caution around this more rapidly flowing water."

High water almost took the life of a dog in the East Fork of the Big Wood River in 2010. The situation escalated when the owner waded into the river after the animal, a situation that Ketchum Fire Chief Mike Elle said at the time is not uncommon. Luckily, the dog and owner escaped unharmed, but Turner stressed the need for adults to keep children and pets on short leashes around high water.

He said areas of most concern will likely be the Big Wood River's tributaries, including Trail Creek, East Fork and Warm Springs.

He also urged caution when travelling, as water on the road can pose real danger to drivers.

"It doesn't take a lot to upset a vehicle, and you never know how deep a hole is," he said. "Be careful when driving through standing water."

Katherine Wutz:

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