Gaging station tracks rising water levels
GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) -- This January thaw has the National Weather Service on its toes, keeping a close eye on the potential for flooding.
WZZM 13 talked with a hydrologist at the National Weather Service in Grand Rapids to see how their team tracks the rising rivers.
Hydrologist Mark Walton and other experts use satellites, web cams, and, most frequently, gauging stations that are placed along waterways throughout the state.
On a rainy, January night in downtown Grand Rapids, fog floats over a river that is just beginning to swell with rain runoff. Right next to the Blue Bridge, over the Grand River, stands a small brick tower that's tracking every drop.
"It takes readings every 15 minutes," said Walton.
It's one of the gauging stations Walton uses to track rising river water levels.
"It's connected to the river by a series of pipes, and inside is a well," he said.
The pipes allow the river levels to match the water levels in the well. If one rises, so does the other. Forecasters keep a float inside, that's connected to a tape.
"That turns a dial that actually measures the water levels and sends it to their office... via the satellite," he said.
Walton also watches some area rivers, like the Grand in Ottawa County's Robinson Township, via a web cam.
"We can monitor whether the ice is moving or not," he said.
It's one area he's keeping a close eye on, given the chain of events that led to Robinson Township's severe flooding back in 2005.
"If this ice starts to move, then what happens is the ice moves down, tends to get caught up in this area right here, causes the river to back up and causes flooding up into Robinson Township," he said.
Walton is confident that area won't see a repeat of 2005, because even he doesn't anticipate severe flooding anywhere in West Michigan.
Walton says the upcoming cold snap will do us a favor from a flooding standpoint. The run-off will re-freeze and won't flow into the rivers, which will help the river levels fall.