KNOWLTON: IT REALLY IS A GOOD OLD FASHIONED WINTER, THAT'S WHAT A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE TELLING ME. LaPlata Emergency Preparedness Manager Butch Knowlton says all that snow in them thar hills is great for recreation and irrigation., KNOWLTON: CERTAINLY WHAT'S UP ON THE MOUNTAIN RIGHT NOW WARRANTS MONITORING, WARRANTS SOME CONCERN. Knowlton isn't alone in his concern about snowpacks running 130 to 150 percent above normal right now. Jim Pringle with the Grant Junction National Weather Service says those snow packs compare with 2005, when the Animas reached a flow of 8000 cfs, and flowed over its banks in the valley. But there's a twist. PRINGLE: ONE THING WE DID NOT HAVE IN 2005 THAT WE HAVE THIS SEASON IS THE LOWER ELEVATION SNOWPACK SUCH AS AT ELEVATIONS AROUND 7 THOUSAND FEET ELEVATION. THERE'S STILL A SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF SNOW ON THE GROUND IN SOUTHWEST COLORADO THAT COULD ALSO FEED INTO OUR RIVERS AND STREAMS. It's that lower elevation snow that has Knowlton worried as well. KNOWLTON: IF WE REMEMBER BACK TO 1995 WE HAD VERY SIMILAR CONDITIONS THERE WAS STILL QUITE A BIT OF SNOW ON NORTH FACING SLOPES, THE GROUND WAS FROZEN AND WE HAD A RAIN STORM COME IN AND IT RAINED FOR ABOUT FOUR AND A HALF HOURS, BASICALLY FROM ABOUT 7200 FEET IN ELEVATION DOWN. IT SNOWED FROM THAT ELEVATION UP, BUT FROM ABOUT 7200 FEET DOWN IT RAINED FOR FOUR AND HALF HOURS AND WE SAW SIGNIFICANT FLOWS IN THE FLORIDA RIVER IN PARTICULAR, IN FACT LA PLATA COUNTY LOST SOME BRIDGES UNDERNEATH THE LAPLATA COUNTY AIRPORT JUST FROM THAT FOUR AND HALF HOUR PERIOD OF RAIN. That scenario could repeat itself this year. Pringle says it depends on a combination of temperatures and rainfall over the next six to eight weeks, basically, how well Mother Nature does in metering this springs meltdown. The worst case scenarios would be, as Knowlton said happened in 1995, extended heavy rains at low elevations, or a sudden warm up that melted upper elevation snows, or a combination of the two. Whatever the case, Pringle says those living near Southwest Colorado waterways, the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan rivers and their tributaries, need to be prepared. PRINGLE: I WOULD DO EVERYTHING I COULD TO PROTECT YOUR PROPERTY. OF COURSE RIVER FLOODING TYPICALLY DOESN'T OCCUR VERY RAPIDLY LIKE FLASH FLOODING, HOWEVER DURING A RAIN ON SNOW EVENT, IT CAN HAPPEN MORE RAPIDLY THAN PEOPLE CAN TAKE NECESSARY ACTIONS TO PROTECT THEIR PROPERTY. SO THERE ARE A NUMBER OF THINGS PEOPLE CAN DO. ONE OF THEM THAT THEY MIGHT CONSIDER IF THEY ARE IN THE FLOOD PLAIN IS PURCHASING FLOOD INSURANCE THROUGH FEMA AND THEY CAN GO TO FEMA'S WEB SITE TO PURCHASE THAT INSURANCE. ONE THING THEY HAVE TO REMEMBER IS YOU HAVE TO PURCHASE THIS FLOOD INSURANCE THIRTY DAYS PRIOR TO ANY ACTUAL FLOOD EVENT TO MAKE THIS INSURANC WORK FOR YOU. Knowlton says he's in particular, concerned about the Upper Vallecito area, above the reservoir. It was struck by a flood in October 2006. KNOWLTON: IT ACTUALLY DID A LOT OF DAMAGE TO SOME OF THE MANMADE LEVIES AND SOME OF THE BANK STABILIZATION PEOPLE HAD DONE OVER THE YEARS, SO WHEN THAT EXCEPTIONALLY HIGH FLOW CAME THROUGH IT DID DAMAGE THE BANKS, IT DID REMOVE A LOT OF THOSE LEVIES AND A LOT OF THOSE HAVE NOT BEEN PUT BACK YET, THEREFORE THERE IS AN ELEVATED RISK. From KSUT, Four Corners Public Radio, I'm Victor Locke.
Tomorrow, KSUT's Sarah Baumgartner reports on how folks in the Vallecito area are preparing for possible flooding this year.
NOTE: For more info on the Federal Flood Insurance program go to floodsmart.gov. You can also find helpful information on flood preparedness by going to http://www.fema.gov/areyouready/flood.shtm. To stay updated on weather and flood forecasts, go to www.weather.gov/gjt