DENVER (CBS4) – After a devastating weather event like the September 2013 flash flood, a lot of time is spent evaluating the performance of agencies directly involved with getting information to the public, such as the National Weather Service.
The goal of this work is to find out what went wrong and what went right, so that lessons can be learned, in case it ever happens again.
Officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a 50-page report in the summer of 2014 outlining what they found.
The report found that county emergency managers in the foothills were very pleased with forecast information from the National Weather Service, and attributed months of previous training for flash flood — due to all the recent wildfires — to what may have saved a countless number of lives.
But some on the Eastern Plains said they didn’t know what was really happening until flash flood warnings were issued, leaving them little time to prepare.
One thing that complicated forecasts, especially the night the flash flooding hit so hard in the Front Range Foothills, was not knowing exactly how much water was heading east, because so many river gauges failed when the high water roared through.
A lesson for the future is to take the model for building partnerships with county emergency managers in the foothills, and expand it to other parts of the state, such as cities along the South Platte River, where large river floods can, and occasionally do, happen.
The report also found some room for improvement with public communication, including through social media.
“More cellphones, more text alerts, more tweets, more Facebook posts. That’s how our society is communicating, and that’s where we need to be, without abandoning the people who still use the radio, television and newspaper,” said Nezette Rydell, Meteorologist in Charge at the National Weather Service office in Boulder.
One of the most interesting lessons learned, believe it or not, has to do with snow.
“Because in Colorado, we understand extreme events in terms of snowfall,” said Rydell.
Our local weather service office is a leader when it comes to forecasting widespread heavy snow, because we see so many storms each season.
But widespread heavy rain, on the magnitude that hit Colorado in September 2013, isn’t that common.
So the lesson for the future is to take some of the forecast and communication practices in place for large winter storms, and adapt them for major rain storms, should a repeat of 2013 ever happen again.