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Above average rain and flooding predicted for spring season

By DAVID TEWES
March 18, 2010 at 4:04 p.m.
Updated March 17, 2010 at 10:18 p.m.

A flood marker, indicating the level over the flood stage that the river reached during the flood of 1998, was placed in Riverside Park near the Guadalupe River on Thursday.

FLOOD FACTS

The top five floods recorded on the Guadalupe River in Victoria, where the flood stage is 21 feet, are:

1. Oct. 20, 1998: 34.04 feet

2. July 3, 1936: 31.22. feet

3. Sept 3, 1981: 31.10 feet

4. Nov. 26, 2004: 30.97 feet

5. Sept 21, 1967: 30.67 feet

Total precipitation for the 2009-2010 winter months of December through February: 9.96 inches. Normal precipitation for that period is 6.95 inches.

Normal precipitation for the spring months of March through May is 10.34 inches.

FLOOD MARKER

A sign commemorating the 1998 flood was unveiled during a Thursday morning ceremony across from the Duck Pond in Riverside Park.

It includes a line that shows how high the water was in Riverside during the flood crest.

"This is my first dedication of a high-water marker and I hope it's one of my last," said Victoria Mayor Will Armstrong, one of the speakers.

The event included representatives from the city, county, state and federal governments, as well volunteer and nonprofit groups that help during floods.

Jeb Lacey, the Victoria County emergency management coordinator, said this is the first community to partner with the West Gulf River Forecast Center and the U.S. Geological Survey in putting up a flood marker sign.

The event was sponsored by the National Weather Service, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Victoria County Office of Emergency Management.

It has been more than a decade since a wall of water swept down the Guadalupe River and swamped part of Victoria with record flooding.

Victoria attorney Glenn Villafranca, who lives near the river, said he and his family have recovered from the physical damage to what was their dream home.

But his family continues to deal with the emotional damage caused by the flood, which peaked at a record 13.04 feet above flood stage in Victoria. That was Oct. 20, 1998.

"We'll never ever forget it," Villafranca said. "Every time the river goes on the rise, I get nervous."

And forecasters said while they don't want to be alarmists, they're forecasting an increased chance of flooding this spring. A 1998-type flood is not out of the question, they said.

"Could it happen again? Absolutely," said John Metz with the National Weather Service. "Let's hope it does not."

But he said history shows that over a 10-year period, eight different 20-inch rainfalls have been recorded. That's significant enough to cause serious flooding on any of the mainstream rivers in South Texas, he said.

The 1998 flood was considered a 500-year flood, but Greg Wilk with the weather service said that terminology is often misunderstood by the public.

"That doesn't mean it happens every 500 years," he said. "What it means is the probability of an event happening like that again is two-tenths of 1 percent every year."

Those were the same odds Victoria had of getting the record 1998 flood.

A combination of things have come together to lead forecasters to believe flooding on the Guadalupe and area rivers will be above normal this year, Wilk said.

Fall and winter rains have filled area lakes to capacity, the soil remains saturated and there's an increased chance of thunderstorms because of El Nino. Thunderstorms tend to produce more rain in a shorter period than do the typical winter storms.

There is also a 40- to 50-percent chance of above-normal rainfall on the lower Guadalupe this spring.

"Any kind of above-normal rainfall will have a tendency to run off more than in a normal year when rainfall is average and soil moisture is normal," Wilk said. "Chances are flooding will also happen more frequently because El Nino is still ongoing."

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