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Published February 15, 2010, 12:00 AM

Weather service seeks more observers to help predict flood

The National Weather Service wants to double the size of its local weather observer team in the Red River Valley in an effort to more accurately predict the flooding this spring.

By: By Kevin Bonham, Forum Communications Co., INFORUM

The National Weather Service wants to double the size of its local weather observer team in the Red River Valley in an effort to more accurately predict the flooding this spring.

The weather service in Grand Forks currently has a team of 79 local weather observers who record and report information such as snowfall, snow depth and snow-water content.

“Only about 20 report on a daily basis, for whatever reason. We’d like to get that number to 40,” said Mark Ewens, weather service data acquisition program manager.

The southern valley is the initial focus, he said, because of the high amounts of snow and snow-water equivalent there.

“That’s the part that the flooding hits first,” he said.

Weather spotters are being sought throughout the southern half of the valley, roughly from southern Steele and Traill counties in North Dakota and southern Norman and Mahnomen counties in Minnesota southward to Lake Traverse.

Specifically, observers are needed in the Clifford and Hope areas of North Dakota, as well as the Shelly, Twin Valley and Hendrum areas of Minnesota.

“We used to have observers in Clifford and Hope,” Ewens said. “But that gentleman in the Clifford area passed away, and nobody wanted to pick that up. The point is if you want better forecasts, we need more people.”

Additional spotters are needed in the Hunter, Page and Arthur area of northern Cass County.

The weather service will follow this call with one for the northern valley.

Ewens said more weather spotters also are needed in rural portions of northwestern Minnesota, as well as Larimore, Petersburg and much of Nelson County in North Dakota.

The weather service partners with local, state and federal agencies to obtain snowfall, snow depth and snow-water content information. Such partners include the North Dakota State Water Commission, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“A significant part of the flood forecasting effort inthe ability for the weather service to properly analyze how much water content exists in the current snow blanketing the region,” said Mike Lukes, weather service hydrologist. “The most reliable and accurate method of obtaining snow-water content measurements is the human weather observer.”

Snowfall and snow-water measurements can vary greatly within a small area, he said, so the more daily reports the weather service can get, the more information forecasters will have to make calculations for forecasts.

While Internet access is preferable, Lukes and Ewens say it is not mandatory. The weather service provides training for spotters.

For more information, contact Mark Ewens or Mike Lukes at the National Weather Service in Grand Forks at (701) 772-0720, or by e-mail, Mark.Ewens@noaa. gov or Michael.Lukes@noaa.gov.


Kevin Bonham is a writer for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.

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