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SPRING CONDITIONS: FLOOD OUTLOOK IN ALBERTA AND MANITOBA
By Cori Marshall
Spring has arrived and with the warming temperatures comes melting snow and ice. The spring melt can cause water levels in lakes and rivers to rise, even to flood stage.
Public Safety Canada stated that floods "can occur in any region [and|, at virtually anytime of the year." The federal department added that "the most common cause of flooding is the accumulation of winter precipitation." Flooding can also be caused by sudden heavy rains, and storm systems.
The government arm underlines that "fluctuations in water levels are natural occurrences." Being that water levels rise and fall in normal situations why are Canadians so concerned? Public Safety pointed out that "people generally relate high-water levels to flood conditions is the water threatens homes and lives, industry and our critical infrastructure."
Canada has seen two extreme flood events in the last two decades. The Red River Flood in Manitoba in May 1997 and the in Central and Southern Alberta in June 2013. The latter which hit the City of Calgary hard has been described as "the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history."
Jason Penner, Public Affairs Officer with Alberta Environment and Parks, said that
Alberta has made improvements in forecasting, communications, and emergency preparedness since the June 2013 floods." The province launched an emergency managers' portal on its website, rivers.alberta.ca, which allows for instantaneous contact between municipal emergency managers and the River Forecast Centre. Penner added that "this allows our municipal partners to respond faster and more efficiently during a flood emergency."
Penner highlighted that "all rivers in Alberta are closely monitored by the province's River Forecast Centre [by] more than 400 gauges and monitoring stations." The information gathered through the monitoring stations is fed to "servers on a near real-time basis." In situations where flow is high the centre operates around the clock.
Penner reported that "in both the Oldman and Bow river basins snowpack is generally above average for this time of year." Mountain snow melt is not yet a factor, and "generally begins in mid-May and continues through June." Penner added that the runoff forecast for these two basins "is closely linked to the snowpack situation [and are] expected to be above average."
In northern Alberta there are "average conditions for the Red Deer and Athabasca river basins, while the North Saskatchewan River Basin is showing below average snowpack conditions and mountain runoff forecasts," Penner said.
Penner said that though current observations may help forecasting, "flooding in Alberta is driven by heavy rainfall [and] major rainstorms can only be accurately forecast a few days in advance."
Steve Topping, Executive Director for Hydrologic Forecasting and Water Management for Manitoba Infrastructure, said that "most Manitoba rivers and tributaries have crested and are receding to seasonal levels." He added that precipitation "will prolong the higher levels but are not expected to cause significant increases in river levels."
Topping said that the province is "now monitoring the inflows on Manitoba lakes as water levels are still rising on Lake Manitoba, Lake St. Martin and Dauphin Lake." Topping underlined that the effects of winds are also being monitored "as shoreline ice pileup or elevated water levels due to strong winds can impact properties."
Manitoba frequently prepares flood outlooks and distributes them. Topping stated that "based on early reporting the province works municipalities that could be impacted by spring flooding." Provincial flood models are generated by ground, air and satellite information.
Topping said that "once flood season is underway, the province is in close contact with any impacted municipalities." Municipal first response efforts are supported with provincial resources.
Topping noted that "the province continues to monitor all major river basins and large lakes as ice dissipates and flows gradually return to normal." Water volume is expected to be high for another month.
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