Manitoba has a new flood forecaster just as the province gets ready to issue the first spring flood outlook later this week.​

Fisaha Unduche, introduced to the media on Monday, is a flood modelling and mitigation engineer who studied at the University of Manitoba and has spent the past five years in the province's Water Stewardship Department.

He has also worked in the Netherlands.

He takes over for Phillip Mutulu, who quit in August 2013 after filling the position for two years. Mutulu faced accusations he was caught off guard by severe late-spring flooding along the Assiniboine River, which forced thousands of people from their homes in 2011.

Unduche said he feels ready for the scrutiny that comes with being the head flood forecaster in a province that sees some type of flooding almost every year.

"When the snow melts and when there is a sudden temperature change, we forecasters are always under pressure … and I'm sure I'll cope with the future pressure as well," he said.

Unduche said the province is using new technology and new weather models to improve forecasting. He is to release the province's first flood outlook on Friday, but is hinting prospects this year aren't bad.

"What we are expecting for this year is normal to below-normal for most parts of Manitoba," he said, adding that some areas have seen more snow than usual but it does not contain a lot of moisture.

Still, much can change before the melt gets underway, he added.

Flood victim skeptical

Twin Lakes Beach cottage owner Jeff Douglas is reserving any judgments of Unduche until he sees the accuracy of his forecast.

“[I hope] that he’s a lot more accurate than the last guy,” said Douglas, who had his property destroyed by flooding in 2011. “[I hope] he doesn’t follow the NDP’s orders – that he actually is 100 per cent truthful as to what is exactly happening.”

Manitoba experience a boon, university dean says

Jay Doering, the dean of the University of Manitoba, accepted Unduche as a student at the university where he would eventually earn his PHD.

Doering said Unduche’s knowledge of Manitoba will help on the job.

“The way our system works, in terms of the runoff response, the nature of our hydrology and our hydro-meteorology,” he said. “I think it’s important when someone has had that experience on the ground.”

Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton agrees.

“Dr. Unduche is an experienced professional engineer who was selected based on his considerable experience with flooding in North America and Europe,” said Ashton.

“The new director brings a great depth of knowledge of the province’s major watersheds and will lead the flood-forecasting team using his experience from around the world and the foremost hydrological science and technology.”

Unduche will lead a team of 12 specialized full-time staff members who work at the forecast centre year-round including three senior forecasters and two new engineers who have been recently hired.

Other members of his team include computer specialists who assist with forecast system software and data technicians who provide on-the-ground data from river and lake watersheds across the province and outside data from Environment Canada and the U.S. National Weather Service, according to the province.

During flood season, he will lead dozens more specialized staff who assist in the forecasting process, Ashton said.

In addition to hiring Unduche, the province's forecasting centre is in the midst of many other initiatives, including:

  • Reviewing new flood-forecasting software​
  • Acquiring and installing 100 new automated weather stations, some of which include soil moisture capability to increase the data available and improve forecast reliability.
  • Adding 22 new hydrometric stations for a total of 315 stations on Manitoba’s rivers and tributaries (all of which transmit data by satellite in real time).
  • Adding two additional portable acoustic Doppler river flow metres for a total of six units.

“With 100 years of combined experience and the unique shared experience of working during the largest, longest flood in Manitoba’s history, our team is one of the most experienced flood-forecasting units on the continent,” said Unduche.

 “This province is the best place to work with leading-edge flood-fighting and flood-forecasting technology and it’s is an honour to serve with this team protecting Manitoba families and businesses from the threat of flooding," he said adding, internationally it's known that if you want to be a flood forecaster, Manitoba is the place to be. 

With files from The Canadian Press