Kevin Bonham, Forum Communications Co., Published January 06 2011
Agency seeking weather observersDEVILS LAKE – The National Weather Service urgently needs weather observers in the Devils Lake Basin to help climatologists fine-tune their summer flood forecasts.
While early forecasts say there’s a 50-50 chance that Devils Lake will rise to an elevation of 1,454.6 feet above sea level – a full 2.5 feet higher than the record crest of 1,452.1 feet in June 2010 – officials say volunteer weather observers throughout the basin could help the Weather Service make more precise predictions.
It’s important, they say. Last year’s record was just 6 feet below the elevation at which the lake would begin to spill naturally – and potentially uncontrollably – out of Stump Lake to the Sheyenne River Valley. The lake has risen by almost 30 feet and quadrupled in size since 1993.
Officials reporting at a meeting Wednesday of the Devils Lake Joint Water Resource Board said some rainfall totals this fall varied by as much as 9 inches along a 20-mile corridor of North Dakota Highway 66, in the upper basin.
“That’s why we need these observations to be reported,” said Mark Ewens, Weather Service data acquisition program manager in Grand Forks.
Volunteers would become members of the Community Collaborative Rain Hail and Snow (Cocoras) Network, a unique, nonprofit, community-based network of volunteers of all ages and backgrounds working together to measure and map precipitation – rain, hail and snow.
People interested in volunteering should go to www.cocorah.org and follow the links to North Dakota. They also may contact the Weather Service office in Grand Forks at (701) 772-0720.
Wednesday, Devils Lake was at an elevation of about 1,451.6 feet. While it’s a half-foot below the summer crest, it’s almost a foot higher than the 2009 record. The lake elevation actually dropped to a low of 1,451.24 feet in late November, but since has risen by about one-third of a foot.
While construction has slowed this winter, crews are in a race to build up infrastructure – from major federal, state and county highways and the dike that protects the city of Devils Lake – to keep further damage at a minimum.
More than $100 million is being spent to raise roads and the embankment protecting the city of Devils Lake. Phase 1 should be completed this year. Phases 2 and 3 are planned for 2011 and 2012.
Meanwhile, the North Dakota Legislature this winter will consider bills to increase the capacity of a west-end outlet, and to build a new outlet and a control structure near the east end of the lake.
“I think 1,455 is a real possibility this year,” Devils Lake Joint Water Resource Board Manager Jeff Frith said. No one offered a rebuttal, or even a suggestion that 1,455 is out of the question.
Officials from the Weather Service and the North Dakota State Water Commission will do some field work – measuring snow depth and moisture content – in the basin next week, in preparation for the next spring flood outlook, which will be released in late January, according to Mike Lukes, Weather Service hydrologist.
The Weather Service’s official reporting station at Devils Lake measured 26.07 inches of moisture through all of 2010. That’s the third highest total in the past 20 years, and more than the 25.38 inches received in 2008. That year was followed by a 3.5-foot rise in Devils Lake.