Manitoba's former chief flood forecaster says he disagrees with this year's predictions from provincial forecasters.
Alf Warkentin, who retired in 2010, says while he is concerned with the risk of flooding this year, he believes the province's current flood forecast for the Red River is too high, while the forecast for the Assiniboine River is too low.
"At this point, I'm not overly concerned," he told CBC News on Monday. "There's not too much snow between Fargo and Grand Forks, which is our main producing area."
Warkentin said it's not the first time he has disagreed with provincial forecasters, who are predicting major flooding along the Red River in the coming weeks.
Warkentin was brought in after his retirement to help the forecasting team, but he said the province did not listen to his predictions for the Souris and Brandon area, and millions of dollars were spent for preparations that were not needed.
"The flood barely touched the dikes," he said.
Warkentin added that he offered his 40-plus years of experience to help the inexperienced forecasters deal with their first major flood, but the province rejected those offers.
"I really couldn't understand why they didn't want me involved, why they kind of built a wall between me and the new forecasters. I don't understand that," he said.
"On the Easter weekend, I was told to leave the premises. A phone call came in and I was shown to the back door."
Forecasters overwhelmed in 2011
An independent task force's report, released last week, said the flood forecasters — who had between six months and three years of experience — worked up to 12 hours a day, for 100 days, due to a lack of staff and resources.
The long hours and lack of resources took a toll on the accuracy of the forecasts, according to the task force, which also criticized the lack of succession planning following Warkentin's retirement.
"I think they should have had me there all the time. It was an absolutely great training ground … and I think we could have avoided a lot of heartache from people that were spending sleepless nights worried about the flooding," Warkentin said.
The province says it will keep working with Warkentin, who is considered to be "Manitoba's pioneering forecaster," according to a government statement.
"Alf Warkentin was part of the team who worked day and night to provide forecasts for cities and towns throughout Manitoba and was often called by members of the forecasting unit for advice as the flood lasted into the summer of 2011 and beyond," a spokesman wrote in the emailed statement.
"As the province continues improving and developing more modern forecasting tools, we will also continue working with Mr. Warkentin where there are opportunities in which his vast knowledge of how water moves through the Manitoba landscape will be helpful."
The statement adds that the 2011 flood "pushed the limits of Manitoba's flood forecasting system to the extreme" and the task force's report praised the forecasters' commitment and professionalism.
Late snow melt
Warkentin said he's not confident the province has a handle on the likelihood of flooding this spring.
"The conditions are unusual — [there's a] late melt. There's some disagreements between what the outside agencies are saying and what our forecast model is saying," he said.
Warkentin said in 1966, there was a huge potential for spring flooding along the Red River, but the threat dissipated because of a slow spring thaw.
There is a potential that could happen this year, he said.
"I'm not quite that convinced that it's going to be a fast melt, just because it's late," he said.
"It could be a slow melt after all and come in stages — a couple of mild days, followed by cool days — and that would be great because it would allow a lot of water to soak into the relatively dry ground."