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FLOOD WATCH IS AWASH IN MULTIPLE MEANINGS

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The flood season is now officially over in Utah, and we can all breathe a sigh of relief. We just didn't get a repeat of 1983. We made it through the summer that followed the wet winter with some local flooding caused by thundershowers, but we were spared heavy spring floods. Now we can once again enjoy autumn weather and understand the weather forecasts we hear on the radio as we wait for the ski season.

The problem is that it's hard to understand people who know complicated things about flooding and weather and water. Teachers are supposed to help explain things like this, and the physics professor that I filled sandbags alongside during the big one in '83 tried to explain to me the particular problem we have in Ephraim.This professor, Hans Reed Christensen, was a down-to-earth sort of guy but still lofty enough that they named a building at Snow College after him. He always seemed to go for the difficult explanation first. One would expect that of someone who worked on the Manhattan Project. He claims to have lived under the handball courts at the University of Chicago when all the secret nuclear stuff was taking shape there.

After a few hours of filling sandbags against the coming waters, he tried, as a good teacher, to clarify things for me a bit. "The near microscopic particles of clay indigenous to the Sanpete County subsoil are small and disk-shaped. This makes compaction difficult, and when swept into fast-moving water the particles create a colloidal suspension that increases the viscosity of the fluid, which in turn actually increases the hydraulic effects of the water."

I didn't get it. "What's that again?"

He obviously recognized that he was talking to someone who didn't understand. He had to change teaching methods. He tried it again. "There's too damn much water for the ditches."

I understood that part. The parts I really don't understand are the flood warnings and flood watches during the spring and summer. That's why we should be relieved that the flood season is safely behind us this year.

I suppose that the flood warning may be the easiest to understand. The weather forecaster just gets on the radio or television weather forecast and warns about the flood. "We're warning you until 6 a.m. tomorrow. Then we'll probably just watch." I always wonder exactly who is being warned and if whoever it is will heed the flood warning.

The flood watch is more difficult to understand. Who exactly is the forecaster telling to watch for floods? Is the forecaster telling me to watch? I never know quite where to watch. The forecaster is so general. "There is a flood watch for central Utah tonight and tomorrow morning at 10 a.m." Where do I watch? I can't watch all of central Utah. And if I do watch like I'm supposed to do, what am I supposed to do if I see something? Am I authorized to warn the flood like the forecaster who told me to watch, or do I have to call the TV forecaster to issue the flood an official warning?

I expect that these weather forecasters just don't know what they put us willing people through. I can see a half million residents of central Utah just standing on front porches, or in fields, or next to country lanes just obediently watching for signs of flooding. Some are watching the sky while others are watching criks and streams and irrigation ditches. Some of the bright ones may even be watching for near microscopic clay particles in colloidal suspension in viscous water in Sanpete. I just pray that the other watchers will recognize what they see, warn the flood, and that the official flood season will always end as gently as it did this year.

It's always a relief when fall and winter finally get here and there are no more flood watches. But now we can start to worry about winter storm warnings and storm watches. At least I know what to do with a winter storm watch. I can watch the skis rattle in the garage in anticipation.

I only hope that people don't warn the winter storms. We want all we can get, at least until next spring, when there will be the obligatory flood warnings and flood watches again. In the meantime, the snow is what makes summer enjoyable. I suppose that's another matter that physicists and teachers can explain and I can't understand.