Spring 2017 Flood and Weather Concerns

– [Narrator] Your support
helps us bring you programs you love, go to WyomingPBS.org,
click on Support and become a sustaining member
or an annual member. It’s easy and secure, thank you. – As Spring arrives, we’re
all ready to once again get outside and get back
to work or explore all that Wyoming has to offer. But with Wyoming’s winter
weather and now record setting snow pack in some areas, what
are the weather folks saying about the potential
for flooding? The impact of Wyoming’s snow,
next on Wyoming Chronicle. (dramatic music) And as we look to understand
the impact of Wyoming’s winter, we’re pleased to be joined
by Tim Troutman, the warning coordination meteorologist
here at the National Weather Service office in Riverton,
Tim thank you so much for joining us on
Wyoming Chronicle. – Well thanks for coming out
to the National Weather Service here in Riverton, we’re glad
to have you here and we’re ready to talk about
all things weather. – Sure, you know I think
this is an appropriate place for us to be because for us
in central Wyoming this year, this seemed like a record
setting year in many respects, we’ve had a lot of snow,
we had snow that stayed, it got very cold, we know
there’s a lot of snow here in the Wind River Mountains. Classify this winter for
us if you would, Tim. – Well just involving the
total amount of snowfall from October to the present,
we’ve had 52.1 inches of snow that’s been recorded here
in Riverton, and last year at this point we
had surprisingly 53
and a half inches. – That is a surprise.
– Yes, and so we have dropped a little bit to third
place, the winter of 1919, 1920, we had about 63 and a
half inches at this point, that was number one, last
year number two at this point, and we’re at third place all
time involving the climate records for snowfall up to
this point, we were number one but we have dropped down to
number three due to just dry conditions that have been
occurring the past two or three weeks.
– And that actually might be a good thing when you
consider flood potential, and that’s something where
I’d like to get into right off the top.
– Sure. – Because it is record
setting snow pack at least in the southern Wind River Range. – Yes, and looking at the
snow water equivalent which helps us to figure out how
much normal and above normal snow pack and the water that’s
laying there with the snow, that’s there, you know,
right now across the region in the Wind River Range area
and over west toward Jackson and surrounding areas,
we’re running at 150 to 210% of normal so there’s a lot
of snow that’s still left in the higher elevations
especially and that’s gonna be a continued concern as
we have warming continuing over the next couple of weeks,
and you know, the one thing that we’re looking at right
now is the fact, will there be heavy rainfall that could fall
on the snow pack which would further aggravate the snow
melt and the runoff that’s been occurring, and we’ve
had some issues with some of the surrounding rivers
already this winter, – Very early.
– And winter, yes, – Historically, correct?
– Very, yeah early, historically, definitely
toward the Hudson area and up toward Washakie County and
into the Big Horn Basin region. A few weeks ago in February
we had some flooding issues there and right now in
Granger, the region there, they’ve been receiving
some flood problems related to the snow melt, so that’s
gonna continue potentially, and we’re just looking ahead,
and our concern is gonna be, is there gonna be heavy
rainfall that’s gonna accompany the warm temperatures? – So how do you
project that then? In other words, if you are
a rancher or someone who’s planning to get outside and
recreate here in Wyoming, is it 100% likely there will
be flooding in central Wyoming? Is it 60% likely, is it
we just don’t know yet? Stay tuned, how do you
estimate really what the impact of this snow is gonna be? – Well each winter, about once
a month, we issue a Spring snow melt flood potential
outlook, and that product gives in a range from
slight to moderate to high probabilities of potential
flooding issues, so, right now the moderate to high
ranges are definitely along the Little Popo Agie River
and also the Little Wind River region from Riverton
to Lander area. A little bit southwest of
Pinedale where there’s quite a bit of snow pack there. Also southwest of
Jackson, north of Jackson, along the Snake River
headwaters and further on to the Snake River as you head a
little further west of Jackson those are some moderate to
higher potential areas where there could be some snow melt
flooding issues as we head further into the
latter part of winter. – And what does that high
classification really mean? Is that a high potential for
potential property losses? Do you get into,
– Well it’s just a high – Those guesstimates?
– potential, it’s a high potential for flooding, and
whether it’s gonna be just a lower level agriculture
interest or will it affect homes and business and things like
that, that’s the real question and that’s what we look
at into our short term, involving working closely with
the river forecast centers that cover our area, we have
three separate river forecast centers that cover the region
here in central and western Wyoming, we coordinate with
those river forecast centers within the National
Weather Service. They’re hydrologists that
are very similar in that they have meteorology training too
and we work closely with those portions of the National
Weather Service to help us put together the most timely
and accurate river stage forecasts, and if we need to
issue river stage warnings for any of the rivers
that can be out of bank, that’s what we’re gonna be
looking to do, and we coordinate closely with other surrounding
National Weather Service offices, the Pocatello
office in Idaho, with some of the drainage issues and
also the Cheyenne office, Rapid City, Billings,
and the other offices that serve Wyoming, so,
– Sure. – So we maintain that
continuous watch of not only the rivers but also the weather,
and we look at the seven, we definitely issue as
timely and accurate forecasts as we can involving
the seven day forecast. And once you get outside
of the seven day forecast, that’s when you get into the
Climate Prediction Center folks they are within the National
Weather Service and they issue the eight to 14 day
outlooks, and that gives us whether temperatures and
precipitation are gonna be at or slightly above normal,
or below normal, we provide the normals involving that,
and it’s based on statistics and the trending
that’s occurring within
the weather pattern so we take all that into account
to raise our concern level if we need to, and that’s
where we head toward issuing the appropriate river forecasts and flood warnings if needed. – It seems to me that when
there is flooding, that people are always scrambling to
react, is there advice that you provide or can give, that
people, whether they be property owners, farmers, et cetera,
some precautions they should be taking now well in front
of potential floods if they’re in one of these
moderate or high zones? – Well the thing to be
thinking about if you’re in the moderate or high Spring
snow melt flood potential, when we get closer to an event
beginning, we would issue, especially if there’s a system
coming through that could provide rainfall, we would be
at that point for those areas potentially issuing a flood
watch, and once a flood watch is issued, that means conditions
are favorable for flooding in those locations over
the next numerous hours. And we try to issue that flood
watch as far out in advance, so that people can get as
much as a heads up in advance to take the
necessary sandbagging
precautions or to move their equipment or other
items to higher ground and safer locations. – Do you have any feel for, at
this point we’re filming this in mid March, a longer term
feel of what our short term precipitation is going to be? Are you hoping, hoping may
not be the right word for you, but are you projecting perhaps
a dryer Spring than normal which may help the
flood potential? – Well I can tell you
definitely within the next month or so we’re looking
at unfortunately at
or slightly above normal precipitation
continuing, so, that’s gonna potentially, depending on
the timing of an event and how heavy any rainfall or
precipitation could be, that could lead to some
issues related to the amount of snow pack that’s already
on the ground, and that would definitely lead to the
melting that could occur with warmer than normal temperatures
continuing to be expected, so, we are,
– Are you really that concerned that?
– We are concerned that this is, there’s gonna be some
flooding issues, and definitely in central and western
Wyoming due to the near record amounts of snow that we’ve
had, and with the snow water equivalency of the precipitation
that’s already fallen on the ground and the soil
being so wet and being at 150 to 200% normal of the
amount of moisture that’s on the ground, that’s gonna
further potentially cause some issues that we’re gonna
be concerned about and we’re gonna be definitely necessarily
issuing the products and the forecasts and
warnings that we need to and advisories to
get that message out, that’s number one.
– How does technology and tools allow you
to better do that? I’m sure they’ve
evolved recently. – Sure, we have a system here
known as AWIPS II and we’re able to look at satellite
data in real time along with radar information, we can
overlay that data together, we have basically the best
forecast weather models in the world to help us to
determine how much precipitation is gonna fall across our area. We now have what’s called
GOES-16 satellite data that’s flowing into our system
here at the National Weather Service, this is gonna be
a groundbreaking amount of satellite data, and the
preciseness of the satellite data is gonna further improve
our weather forecasting capabilities, and as we’re
training on that new system and getting better at that,
that’s gonna further lead to more accurate warnings and
lead time involving potential flooding and other
severe weather episodes
that could happen so we’re excited about that,
we’re using a lot of different data to look at each day
to formulate that forecast. And basically our, at the
National Weather Service, our technology is top of the
line, there’s no other country that has this data set and
the observational data, and the radar network
that we have in the US, and we are well covered in
the Wyoming area to continue to provide the best service
possible, that’s what we’re out to do here at the
National Weather Service. – Do you look back and can you
tell me that, you know what, based on 10 years ago we are
10% better now, or 20 years ago we are 15% better now? And then with this new system
that you’re talking about, give us a feel for percentage
wise how much more accurate we might be, so let’s look
at historically first, how much better are we
than from a long time ago? How much better are we gonna
get relative to forecasting? – Well I can tell you involving
severe weather forecasting, when I first began in the
National Weather Service, my career in 1989, we had
an average warning lead time typically around four minutes
across the US, with the old WSR-57 and WSR-74C non-doppler
radar units involving the radars now.
– And when you say warning time, this is for
severe weather, – This is for severe weather.
– Like hail and tornadoes? – Hail and tornadoes, and
basically the same thing for flooding, so, once
we expanded our network and modernized into doppler
weather radars, that warning lead time average improved
to about at least 10 minutes or so by the mid 90s. With the advent now of adding
dual polarization radars, add on to the doppler radar,
it’s basically this system now that’s within the doppler
radar system allows us to look better into the storms,
or into precipitation band moving across the area,
and we can better determine the drop size of the
precipitation, also it helps us to better determine hail
size and all that data, looking into that along with
the actual doppler portion of the radar allows us to
better look at the wind changes that occur within
a thunder storm. And it helps us to better
forecast hail size, and also percentage, probability
it’s gonna be severe hail, we also have new technology
that helps us now with the MRMS system, helps us to
better determine potential severity of the storm and
also looking at the high wind potential within a thunderstorm
and all those variables together is leading to
improve warning lead times, and our average warning lead
time now is over 14 minutes. So if you look at that,
if you look at your watch or your clock and say well
I’ve got 14 minutes to get to my safe location, that’s
quite a bit of time if you just sit there
and time yourself. The only question we want
to do is to make sure that it’s an optimal warning
lead time for everyone. So if you’re out as a farmer
out in the middle of a field and it may take you 10 to 12
minutes to get to your safe location, that’s
gonna be the question. Is that the optimal and best
warning lead time for you? And that’s what we’re striving
to do here at the National Weather Service
– Now, we’re just, – Is to give folks
the best warnings and forecasts.
– We’re just 100 feet or so from a doppler system?
– Sure. – Is it enhanced like you
talked about here in Riverton? – Yes.
– How much of the state is covered then by doppler
radar, are there some dead areas in Wyoming? – Well there are some areas
in the mountainous regions where the beam can be blocked
in areas, but we can, with our doppler system, we can
look up and in the higher elevations scans, get into those
areas, so it is a situation where we’re able to
effectively warn the residents of Wyoming, and we’re continuing
to, with doppler radar, with satellite data, and
we’re looking at other tools within the satellite, the
GOES-16 data, there’s also lightning mapping that will
actually, from a loft in, you know, where the satellite’s
located, will actually map lightning strikes within a
thunderstorm, and we can look at the intensities of the
lightning strikes to better determine whether that storm
is intensifying to a severe level or not, and that will
further gain us potentially warning lead time which will
give folks a little more heads up to get to that safe
location before it’s too late. – That’s changed, how
you’re warning people, because people don’t have,
maybe just their television, they might not have any
television any more, they just might have their computers, – Sure.
– Or their phones. Perhaps they may not listen
to radio like they used to. How have you evolved in
how you’re giving warnings, and if someone’s watching
right now, and are concerned that am I able to understand
and get information when I need it the most and as
quickly as I can, what would you tell them? – I would tell folks, you
know, have multiple ways to receive your warnings. If you don’t have access to
TV, if you have access to TV you can get your warnings
via TV, commercial radio, if you don’t have a NOAA weather
radio, I highly recommend getting one, you can get
one at just about any local electronics store, including
Radio Shack, Walmart, they all carry those, and, – [Radio] 32. – You get the warning and
forecast information directly from the National
Weather Service. So when we issue a warning from
the National Weather Service it will be on NOAA weather
radio in a matter of seconds, it’s the fastest way
to get your warnings. – And you can set those radios
if you don’t want to listen to them all the time to listen
only when there’s a warning, is that correct? – That’s correct, you can set
it just to alert you for just your county or a surrounding
county, if you wanna give yourself a little more of a
heads up that maybe a storm is moving into your region,
you might wanna set it for the next county to your west
or southwest potentially, but with the size of counties
in Wyoming, you may not elect to do that, it’s definitely
a personal responsibility, and it takes less than 13
seconds for the warning to make it on to NOAA weather radio. Most of the smartphones now,
they have the capability, when a tornado, flash flood
warning is issued, especially, you will get that alert on your
smartphone, it will come up as an extreme weather
alert, and you can get that, the cell phone companies have
zeroed in on the latitude and longitude points of
the warnings that we issue. And if you fall in that
polygon or threat area, you’ll receive one of these
alerts via your smartphone if you have one.
– Is that an app then that you’re recommending
people should download? – Well it should, it just
comes automatically with your smartphone, that technology,
and you don’t have to turn anything on or off, it’s, – I have a smartphone
and I didn’t, I didn’t realize that.
– It’s basically in there, so, the next time we issue a
tornado or flash flood warning, it should pop up as an
extreme weather alert, so, have multiple ways to receive
warnings in case one method does fail, that’s the
important thing to remember. And just go to that safe
location, have it predetermined when that warning is issued,
that’s the important thing of the warning system is
heed the warnings and have a predetermined safe
place to move to. – Every now and then, people
might think that, oh you know what, they over issue warnings. But there’s a criteria, – Yes.
– That you utilize to make certain that you’re doing
it when appropriate. – That’s true, we issue
severe thunderstorm warnings when it looks as though
based upon what we’re trained to look at on doppler radar,
a storm is gonna produce 58 mile per hour winds or
greater that will produce wind damage, large hail
which would be quarter size or larger, or if there is a,
indicated by us at the National Weather Service, a storm
that has rotation that’s significant and it is
developing enough rotation within the storm that could
begin to produce a tornado. And if we get a report
from our trained spotters, we have trained spotters that
are out there, folks that are eyes and ears and look
at the sky and everything, if they see a wall cloud
which is an isolated lowering of the cloud base southwest
corner of the storm, if within that wall cloud
a funnel is developing out of the middle of that wall
cloud, then at that point, we would be getting that report
from our trained spotters that there is a funnel cloud
developing, and we match that up with doppler radar and
that helps us at that point to make that informed decision
so that we can accurately get that warning out there to
the public so that they can have as much of a heads up
to go to a safe location as possible. – It seems to me, at least
for those of us who live in central Wyoming, we’re
blessed to the extent that, we don’t have a lot of what
I would classify as severe weather, is that anecdotal
or is that accurate? – Well, you know, we can
have severe weather here, there have been tornadoes that
have occurred in the past, even in the Riverton area, so
it’s not as frequent as it is into the plains and the
southeast part of the US, but it can happen and the
important thing is for folks to, if we’re expecting severe
weather that day and we at the National Weather
Service are touting that is a severe weather day, then
at that point keep that in the back of your mind,
start keeping a closer watch to the weather that day,
and if a severe thunderstorm watch is issued, that means
large hail or damaging winds may be possible over
the next few hours. Well watch means get ready,
get set, doesn’t mean go yet, doesn’t mean go to your
safe location, it means keep a closer watch to the weather. When a warning is issued
such as a severe thunderstorm warning, that means large
hail, quarter size or larger, damaging winds, 58 miles
an hour or greater, are imminent or about to
occur or occurring within the warned area, so take cover,
move to that safe location at that point, that’s
when you need to go. And then when we issue a
tornado warning, of course that means a tornado is
imminent or occurring and that means obviously at that
point, be prepared for more than likely 80 plus mile
and hour winds and damaging destructive conditions. – Tim, do you categorize by
county where you give the most warnings? Do you know in Wyoming for
instance where you give the most warnings, I’m curious? – Well I mean, we can look
that information up, but, I know based on our experience,
the time you get a little further east of Fremont
County, that’s when some of the tornado potential may
be increased a little bit toward Casper, but it’s
still, tornadoes and severe weather can occur in any area
here in central and western Wyoming.
– Do people depend on social media to get
accurate information? – Well social media is a new
area that we at the Weather Service have been providing
updated information, warning information, there is a
section of social media where there is what we call a bot
and it will automatically populate severe thunderstorm,
tornado, flash flood warnings in there from the
National Weather Service. You know, definitely you can
get the warnings on Twitter from that direction, we try
to provide updates as much as we can in a severe weather
event, locally, and as much of an update as we can to
pump that information out, because so many people are
turning now to social media, and it is definitely a good
medium to alert a lot of folks in a short period of time
that are on social media, such as Facebook and Twitter,
so, we want to stress, we wanna get the message out
there, and try to hit the vast majority of the population
because that’s our objective here at the National Weather
Service is protection of life and property,
– True. – That’s what we need to
do is make sure that folks get as much of a heads up as possible.
– And we have about a minute left, just to circle
back, in the next few weeks, Wyomingites who are
concerned about flooding, they should go to the
Weather Service website, where can they get the
most accurate up to date information that
can help them out? – Okay, just go to simply
weather.gov/Riverton for central and western Wyoming,
and for the eastern part of Wyoming,
if you’re in the, and if you’re in the northern
part of Wyoming there, go to Weather.gov/Billings,
and then Weather.gov/RapidCity for the northeast there.
– The bottom line though is that this is a
Spring people should, – The important thing is
go to Weather.gov and then you can just click on your
area there and it will come up for your local
office on the web. – And this is a Spring people
should really pay attention. – And we should pay attention
this Spring to that potential because all it’s gonna
take is a couple of pretty significant systems moving
through the area with heavy rainfall and we could have
some serious flooding issues because the snowpack is there,
and the warming is gonna occur as we head into the
Spring, and that could set the stage for flood
potential to increase. – Tim Troutman, the Warning
Coordination Meteorologist here at the National Weather
Service office in Riverton, thank you so much for joining
us on this Wyoming Chronicle. – Thank you Craig,
it’s great to have you. – Great to be here. (dramatic music)

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