River Watch program launches for 2015 flood season
Emergency Measures Organization officials hold initial flood preparedness briefing
New Brunswick's Emergency Measures Organization officials launched its 2015 River Watch program on Monday, on the heels of another major winter storm that dropped as much as 45 centimetres of snow in some parts of province.
Public Safety Minister Stephen Horsman and other federal and provincial officials brought a very blunt message to the morning news conference about the River Watch initiative.
"It's not safe to be along the river at this time of the year," Horsman said.
Paul Bradley, a spokesperson for the River Watch program, said people living near the province's rivers must be flood ready.
"We know almost every year someone, somewhere in this province gets hit with flooding. While temperatures remain cooler so far this month, it is only a matter of time before ice breaks up and water levels begin to rise," he said.
"We are encouraging people to act now and not to wait to take the necessary precautions to protect your family and your home."
Horseman issues the yearly warning to "be prepared" because he's dealt with those who aren't.
"I've been in the river many times in my police uniform,' he said. "Helping people get to safety, going in up to my waist getting people out of the river, so it does occur, and I want people to understand it can happen to them."
The amount of snow on the ground is one of the factors taken into consideration by River Watch officials as they try to predict where, and when, flooding may occur in the spring.
Once every two weeks, data specialist Nadine Caissie Long treks out to a half dozen sites. She, along with others across the province, take multiple samples of snow both in the forest and the open, measuring its depth and weight.
The information she gathers on the snow pack in New Brunswick is combined with that from Maine, and Quebec. It is all put together with information from volunteer river watchers and from NB Power. All that information goes into the picture that is put out to the public by River Watch.
Claude Côté, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, said the amount of snow on the ground and the water content in that snow, which are factors in potential flooding, varies from the northern part of the province to near the Bay of Fundy.
In northern New Brunswick, he said there is less snow on the ground than normal.
In the capital region, he said there is three to four times the normal amount of snow on the ground, however, the water content in that snow is near normal.
In southern New Brunswick, toward the Bay of Fundy, there is 10 to 11 times the normal amount of snow on the ground and above normal water content in the snow.
Côté said he expects below normal temperatures over the next few weeks.
"We may be looking at a late spring and a gradual warming with a higher confidence level of colder than normal conditions for the next three to four weeks," he said.
Côté said officials are monitoring weather patterns to see if the risk of flooding is increasing.
There are typically two types of flooding in the spring in New Brunswick.
First comes flooding caused when ice breaks up in rivers, brooks and streams and begins to move, but the ice then sometimes jams and causes water to backup behind the ice dam.
Last April 16, Sussex Corner was swamped by water from a river ice jam.
Later in the spring comes the possibility of open water flooding, typically in the lower St. John River basin, if there is rainfall combined with a rapid snow melt.