Weather Service issues flood watch

Weather Service issues flood watch

March 9th, 2011 by Adam Crisp in News

Motorists commute to work on Highway 27 as steady rains hit the Chattanooga area today.

The National Weather Service issued a flood watch for much of the Chattanooga area as the result of heavy rains.

The service said flooding is expected through the area through this evening.

Trees were reported down in the area. Some roads were being covered by water, according to some reports.

Soaked ground, swollen creeks and daylong showers today will combine for potential flooding on Thursday.

Showers won't let up until shortly after sundown today, forecasters say, so there may be flash flooding. But the real worry comes on Thursday, officials say, when two problem creeks - South Chickamauga in East Ridge and Lookout Creek in North Georgia - may top their banks.

"If we get 3 or more inches in North Georgia, there could be some problems," said Bill Tittle, chief of Hamilton County Emergency Management. "There are five streams and creeks in North Georgia that flow into South Chickamauga, so when it rains heavily there, we may see flooding in East Ridge the day after."

All the rain comes at the worst time. Ground here is soaked from 3 to 4 inches of rain that fell over the weekend.

"The ground is soaked; there's just no place for this water to go," said Paul Barys, meteorologist for WRCB-Channel 3. "There's going to be some flooding."

On Tuesday afternoon, South Chickamauga Creek was at 12 feet and falling just as the first wave of rain came into the area, according to the Weather Service. The creek is considered at flood stage at 18 feet and, on Monday after a weekend of heavy rain, the creek was just below that stage.

Lookout Creek, which flows from Trion, Ga., to the Tennessee River in Chattanooga, already was at flood stage of 12 feet over the weekend, but it also was falling late Tuesday afternoon.

Coahulla Creek in Whitfield County spilled over its banks during the weekend, but the flood warning had been lifted Tuesday, said Claude Craig, the county EMA director. He expected some flooding after today's rains and said the area is being monitored.

The Tennessee Valley Authority is releasing excess water from the entire Tennessee River system, including the Chickamauga and Nickajack dams, ahead of the storms, according to Travis Brickey, spokesman with TVA.

"We are moving water through the system to prepare for the rain that is forecasted and to recover some water storage," he said.

On Tuesday, TVA moved 78 billion gallons of water through its system of dams and turbines along the Tennessee River, he said.

Ronnie Williams walks to work along East 23rd Street as steady rains saturate the Chattanooga area today.

Rain is expected to blanket all of North Georgia and East Tennessee today, according to the National Weather Service. Conservative forecasts call for at least 2 inches of rain, but Barys said there is a potential for up to 3 inches in some isolated areas, and in some pockets there could be even more.

The news of potential floods comes on the heels of tornado damage during Feb. 28 storms. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to survey storm damage in 13 counties, including Hamilton, to determine if the areas qualify for disaster assistance.

During the February event, two tornadoes damaged homes and knocked out power in Signal Mountain and in Red Bank.

Forecasters don't predict this weather system to bring thunderstorms or strong winds or the potential for tornadoes.

"It's mostly just going to be rain," Barys said. "It's fairly typical for this time of year ... it's just that it's so close to the weekend rains and the ground is so wet."

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Hamilton County's Tittle and East Ridge officials already were talking Tuesday about the flood potential. They have alerted the American Red Cross and made preparations to open a shelter just in case, he said.

"We put all those people on standby, and we'll get in conference with other emergency officials in East Tennessee later today," Tittle said.

Floods in East Ridge are common, with South Chickamauga Creek a problem spot any time it rains heavily. In September 2009, the city relocated 500 residents when 10 inches of rain fell over just a few days. South Chickamauga crested at 23 feet during that storm and damaged 150 homes and buildings. That flood followed a similar event in 2003.

No one is predicting severe flooding this week, but East Ridge officials are prepared, said Eric Hopkins, emergency services spokesman.

"Camp Jordan was flooded over the weekend, and we just opened it back up this morning," Hopkins said Tuesday. "We are hoping the water has had time to subside, but if we get 4 inches, that's how you get a flood."

The city is battle-tested for such events, he said.

"Unfortunately, we're fairly experienced with this sort of thing," Hopkins said. "We have crews and equipment ready and the ability to mobilize at moment's notice."

Staff writer Perla Trevizo contributed to this story.