Letters from the West

USGS installs precipitation gages to monitor Blaine flash flood danger

Real-time precipitation gages installed by the U.S. Geological Survey in Blaine County will warn residents and emergency managers about intense rainfall that could triggers flash flooding in the area burned in 2013.

USGS has partnered with Blaine County to establish a network of six precipitation gages in areas burned by the 2013 Beaver Creek wildfire. The lack of vegetation makes the area overlooking many homes vulnerable to both debris flows and flash flooding from burned slopes.

“These strategically placed precipitation gauges should help us get early warnings out to emergency response officials and the public to help protect lives and property,” said Corey Loveland, hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Pocatello.

The Beaver Creek fire was started by lightning on August 7 and burned more than 114,000 acres near the communities of Hailey, Ketchum, and Sun Valley. Rain that fell shortly after containment triggered localized flooding and numerous debris flows. The USGS assessed the risk of future debris flows, information that helped to guide prevention efforts.

Four of the six precipitation gages are in place. Heavy snowpack is delaying gage installation at the two remaining sites, but the USGS will install those gages as soon as possible.

“The Blaine County Commissioners recognize that portions of the county that burned severely during the 2013 Beaver Creek Fire will remain at increased flood risk for up to five years,” said Blaine County Commissioner Angenie McCleary. “We have worked actively with state and federal agencies to identify, prepare for, and mitigate potential flooding.”