Redstone’s community gathered on a rainy night at the fire station north of the Boulevard to discuss flooding preparedness, and a bit about wildfire season too. Pitkin County Emergency Manager Valerie Macdonald presented along with members of the Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District (CRFPD).
Accelerated snow melt this spring is possible due to rain on the snow and warmer temperatures. “That’s one of those springtime phenomena that can really give you some rapid runoff,” said Fire Chief Rob Goodwin.
The chief presented a hydrologic outlook for this year’s runoff near Redstone. If and when the river hits 2,508 cubic-feet per second (cfs), that marks the “action” stage, where residents need to prepare for flooding. Flooding occurs at 3149cfs. “Moderate” flooding occurs at 3,877cfs and “major” at 4,694cfs.
“That 2,508cfs mark is the one you really want to pay attention to,” said Goodwin, “because if we haven’t reached peak yet, which we believe will be in mid-June, that’s when you know, ‘Okay, we’re probably going to have some flooding.’”
Goodwin, along with a few long-time locals reflected on a year when the area did experience serious flooding. The chief recalled patrolling the bridges every night in 1995 and seeing water come up over Highway 133 at the culverts above Hayes Creek. He described it as “ripping.” There were no evacuations in 1995, but the boulevard did flood.
This year, “If it keeps going slow, we’re just going to have a long runoff. But if it kicks up and gets hot like it did in ‘95, we’ll have some flooding,” Goodwin stated.
It’s estimated that 2023 will see the sixth highest flow levels in 67 years. Peak flows normally occur between May 25 and June 18. In 2019, which Goodwin described as a comparable wet year, the peak occurred on June 10 at 2810cfs. Last year, the peak was 1770cfs on June 13.
“The water is rising in the Crystal, as you all can see,” said Goodwin. “It’s going to get warmer. We’re going to see an increase, and depending on how the snow melts, and if we get a lot of warming, we can have a rapid rise in the river.”
Prior to the meeting in Redstone, only CRFPD had provided sand for bagging to the Redstone community. Following the meeting, Pitkin County agreed to send a load as well. The sand is under lock and key to prevent theft — which has occurred in the past when sand was provided for flood prevention. The community is responsible for filling the bags and plans to make a day of it.
According to Macdonald, as of Monday, May 15, the National Weather Service forecasted that the Crystal River at Redstone will not be at the “action stage in the next 10 days.”
However, “Everything I say can change in a heartbeat,” Macdonald told The Sopris Sun, “because it’s all weather dependent.”
Goodwin said it’s expected that 2023 will be a normal risk year when it comes to wildfires, but cautioned people that more “gnarly” conditions may exist in July, rather than in late June — which is more common. The longer wet season means taller cheatgrass in July, he added.
“An average year is still 5,000 fires in the state,” Macdonald clarified. “So, don’t let your guard down. This wet weather is just delaying the wildfire season.”
Macdonald said that everyone needs to have an evacuation plan. Whereas with flooding, people may just be told to get to higher ground, “with wildfire evacuations, you’re going to have to leave your home.”
She listed imperative wildfire preparation efforts including: signing up for emergency alerts, knowing your evacuation routes, having a family communication plan (to include an out-of-region contact person family can check in with), knowing where to shelter and pre packing a 72-hour emergency kit.
Having visible and easily readable address signs is important for emergency responders, she added, and especially at night. Pitkin County Addressing recommends a two-sided vertical sign with a black base and white lettering. According to one of the handouts, if requested, Pitkin County will provide residents with a standard address sign at no cost.
“If we can’t see you, we can’t find you,” echoed CRFPD Assistant Chief Pablo Herr. He added that CRFPD will come to your home to evaluate it for wildfire preparedness.
Visit www.pitkinwildfire.com for more advice on how to prepare for wildfire season.