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Warning system puts high-tech eyes in Waldo Canyon

Warning system puts high-tech eyes in Waldo Canyon

EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. - An early warning system will be installed in Waldo Canyon to better determine when evacuations and road closures should take place along U.S. 24.

The National Forest Service and Colorado Department of Transportation are working with the U.S. Geological Survey to develop a system that incorporates real-time camera images, weather data and stream gauge readings with probability models to determine when and where a big flood could hit.

USGS Pueblo office chief David Mau told KRDO NewsChannel 13 that right now, CDOT shuts down U.S. 24 because of a probability of a storm coming.  Sometimes, he says, that ends up to be a false warning.

"You do the best you can," Mau said. "Try to shut down roads or save lives or get people out of the way, even though you're not sure that's where it's going to occur."

The early warning system will remove the guesswork.  CDOT crews will be able to see exactly what's happening in Waldo Canyon and know when a wall of water and debris will hit U.S. 24.

To Manitou Springs residents who are dependent on that route to get home, it's a welcome relief.

"It's kind of preposterous," Maxwell Fruge told KRDO NewsChannel 13. "Keeping people out of their homes for their own safety doesn't seem like the appropriate measure unless there's imminent danger." 

Fruge said that during the last flash flood warning, he slept in his car in Old Colorado City until U.S. 24 reopened and he could go home.

"It was almost like the apocalypse," he said.  "It was unreal how many cars there were parked outside of town. People were angry and ready to get home and sleeping in their car because they couldn't afford a hotel."

The gauge will be placed about a mile and a half up Waldo Canyon in a spot tested for cell service.  

"If this works, then the desire is to put a few more of these systems in place in the Waldo Canyon fire area where there's more high-intensity probabilities," Mau said.

These types of early warning systems are in place in other parts of the country, including Four Mile Creek near Boulder.  Agencies were able to use that gauge to warn people of imminent floods in northern Colorado.

Mau says all of the equipment for the system in Waldo Canyon has been purchased.  Work to install it is expected to begin on Oct. 3.

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