Spring Run-off Dangers Ahead

Spring Run-off Dangers Ahead

By UFA Assistant Chief Mike Watson

Since early February, local media outlets have been sharing information about the heavy snowpack from this winter and some of the flooding that has already taken place. These conditions may also have an effect on Cottonwood Heights.

Weather is often a “good news, bad news” situation. The good news is that the drought of the past five or six years has changed and most of the reservoirs in Utah will fill to capacity or near capacity. But, as the National Weather Service reports, the potential for bad news stems from the fact that soils are saturated so weather and rain can mean flooding. 

Cottonwood Heights residents living along the banks of Little Cottonwood Creek deal with this issue on a somewhat cyclical basis. This year, snowpacks are very similar to the winter of 2011. The difference between 2011 and this year so far is temperatures. In 2011, the weather stayed cold in the winter and cool in the spring. Then, in the first week in June, temperatures soared to 90 degrees and the snowpack began to melt rapidly, all at once. This sudden change in temperatures resulted in flooding in several areas. This year, we have seen warm temperature spikes since early February, which has caused surges in many of the smaller waterways that has led to some isolated flooding in areas such as Northern Utah. Even though these surges have caused some flooding problems, it has helped to relieve the potential of major flooding in our larger waterways later in the season.

Since we do not control Mother Nature, we often do not know how all of this will play out. We do know that we will certainly experience spring run-off. To that end, steps should be taken in order to be prepared and to promote safety. 

Residents who live along the banks of creeks and streams can locate and clear debris, before the start of run-off. Knowing how to access sandbags, having a neighborhood plan of action and staying alert to weather and flooding potential is very important.

Recreating near creeks like Big and Little Cottonwood is very popular, especially in those canyons. But it will also be potentially dangerous, especially to children. Cold water temperatures can cause hypothermia to set in within minutes and it is nearly impossible to swim in the currents produced by high run-off, so adults can be endangered as well. 

The Public Works and Emergency Management departments in Cottonwood Heights have been watching conditions and planning for potential flooding for months and will continue to do so. They have a plan to distribute sandbags where needed and to coordinate efforts to mitigate the threat of flooding and to reduce the potential impact of high run-off.

Please remain diligent, alert and responsible as the weather continues to play itself out. Situational awareness and preparation are the keys to taking effective and safe actions when needed.

Sources: The Salt Lake Tribune; Deseret News, National Weather Service, Salt Lake City, Cache Valley Daily, KSTU-TV, KTVX-TV, Logan Herald Journal  

Published on 05/01/2017