How Flash Flood Sensors Alert Us

Rain Gauges, Stream Gauges

Olivia Wilmsen, Multimedia Journalist, olivia.wilmsen@krdo.com
POSTED: 06:56 PM MDT Jul 24, 2013    UPDATED: 06:57 PM MDT Jul 24, 2013 

Every time it rains, the fear of flooding looms over the burn scars. You’ve been asking us since the first flood if there is technology to detect flooding and debris is building up in the Waldo Canyon. The short answer is both yes and no.

Of course, it's a complicated answer. The long answer you're looking for leads us to sensors already in the canyon and creek. There is a catch - it's all about how fast people monitoring those sensors can alert us.

Flash flooding is like a scene out of a movie that none of us what to live, but it is reality for drivers on Highway 24. That's why the Waldo Canyon has four rain gauges keeping track of excessive water building up above us. The Colorado Department of Transportation keeps a close eye on the rain gauges three tenths of an inch is the trigger point.

"We know in the past with these kind of storms we'd had this year about 5/10 or 1/2 an inch is what's getting us to get some of the flooding," said CDOT Highway Maintenance Supervisor II Kenneth Quintana.

Quintana doesn't just rely on those rain gauges. Along Highway 24 is Fountain Creek and that could also flood. So these experts put in stream gauges.

"It can be a very fast alert for emergency entities and local agencies to find out how fast the creek is rising and how much water could be coming down on the hill,” said CDOT engineer Dave Watt.

The National Weather Service also pitches in.

"We've lowered our threshold for rainfall to cause a flash flood warning,” said NWS meteorologist Jennifer Stark.

The Highway 24 flood taught these experts to alert people even faster.

"So when we reach that threshold, we may issue a flash flood and we know we're going to have debris and excessive runoff from those thunderstorms,” said Stark.

But there's one thing Quintana wants everyone to understand about these gauges.

"They're not going to help us out to alert that quick for us to be able to get up there and stop that from coming down. Flash flood comes down, it's going to come down there's nothing you're going to do to stop it,” he said.

They could put stream gauges up in the canyon to sense flooding, but those sensors can easily get destroyed with debris. Other organizations - like the City of Manitou - are interested in seeing more stream gauges up above the Waldo Canyon areas. KRDO News Channel 13 will keep asking those organizations what they plan on doing to continue to keep our community safe - away from flood waters.