College holds Dark Skies Severe Weather Seminar

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College holds Dark Skies Severe Weather Seminar

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Katie Paape, News Editor

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Madison College recently held a Dark Skies Severe Weather Seminar. The annual event which gave advice for safety in severe weather, a review of the surprising flooding Madison experienced last August, and other severe weather planning strategies.

The April 13 event featured Tim Halbach from the National Weather Service and Rick Lange from Emergency Management in Dane County among other presenters.

Last summer was a treacherous season of rain for citizens of Wisconsin. Last August in Madison, we saw 10-15 inches of rain, which caused us to use 400,000 sand bags, and 2,000 cars had to be towed. There was one fatality, and there was devastating flooding across the state.

Because of new urban developments and changes in landscaping, Madison experienced flooding where there was never flooding before. Additionally, Madison is not used to the flooding that it experienced last summer. The city hopes to be more prepared for flooding to prevent loss and tragedy in the future.

“We’re not used to flooding in Dane County,” said Lange. “We’re used to wind storms, and we’re really good at wind storms. We’re good at snowstorms, but we’re not so good at flooding because we’re not used to it.”

As citizens, we’re not used to it either. Halbach, from the National Weather Service, told a regretfully common story of how people often react to flooding. There was a car near Watertown that drove up to a flood warning sign in front of a washed-out bridge, and rather than turning around and finding another route, the car accelerated into the flood waters.

“I’m not sure what the expectation was,” said Halbach, “Like the water is going to part like Moses? Thankfully, the fire department was on scene already because someone tried to do it from the other way as well.”

People drive around signs and barricades all the time and driving into a flooded road – even if it doesn’t look that deep – is not the best idea.

“We need people to understand that flooding is a big deal,” said Lange. “We couldn’t get that message out enough to tell people how bad this really was.”

Sometimes you don’t know the extent of the flooding unless you are actually on scene; as was the case near the west side of Madison.

“There are three different watersheds that come in that all head to the Wisconsin river, and they all have to travel though Middleton, Cross Plains, Black Earth and Mazomanie to get there, so that’s where all the waters head to,” said Lange. “Flooding doesn’t happen just in a flood plain.”

However, there are some steps you can take as citizens to reduce flood damage. Lange encouraged the audience to invest in sewer backup insurance. Many people experienced 6-7 feet of sewer backup in their basements from the flood. Water contamination was just one of the many unexpected issues that resulted from the flooding last summer.

Lange also urges people to keep valuables like photos and other sentimental objects out of basements where flooding could permanently destroy them. Finally, it’s important to have multiple ways to receive weather alerts and warnings in case one method fails. 

“We get the jokes. ‘Must be nice to be wrong half the time and still keep your job,’ but we are our harshest critics on ourselves when something doesn’t go right,” Halbach said. “It’s more than just throwing out forecasts. We’re trying to really look at how people interpret our data and make decisions upon that. If we miss a tornado, people could die, so it’s a very serious job that we have, and there’s been many nights where I’ve lost sleep because of the forecast worrying about what’s happening locally.”

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