Thursday, September 13, 2018


When I first heard about the Valier Town Council scheduling the approval of the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Plan, I was afraid they were after my shabby house.  But it turns out it was more like they were after Mother Nature.  The Disasters they had in mind were mostly wildland fire, winter weather, flooding, and severe storms.  I was loaned the 2004 plan, which was very helpful.  For one thing it is well-written, so easy to read.

But beyond that, at the moment I read this material, that scroungy old Florence the Hurricane is headed inland over the Carolinas, weakening to #2 after all her #4 threats, and veering south in a way hurricanes are not supposed to.  The thing about these natural events is that they are so tricky.

In the fifteen years since this 2004 narrative, things have not changed so much -- except for the usual surprises, paradoxical as they can be -- but maybe our consciousness of what constitutes a disaster has been challenged.  It will take me a while to read what the Town Council has just passed and to think about it.  If you want to take a look, the new document just approved is on the Town of Valier website.  This is an excellent use of the website -- for those with computers.

The committee didn't just look at the lay of the land, but also thought about vulnerable populations like children, the disabled, and the elderly.  If we really want to scare ourselves, things like grizzlies, drugs, and the aging general population offer opportunities.

Part of what prompted this update was the crash of a gas tanker coming into Valier from the West and failing to slow enough to go around the curve by Froggies, so that it tipped over in front of the library.  Corky was managing the motel across the street, saw the incident, and got over there fast to break out the window -- which wouldn't crank open -- and get the driver out.  

Then others quickly took over to knock on doors and move the population out to the Fire Pavilion at the edge of Lake Francis, pets and all.  Now with dismay we are told that if that truck had exploded, the fire and explosion damage would have reached to a five mile radius -- the Fire Pavilion was too close.  The librarian remarks that she and other occupants would have been incinerated almost immediately.  That tanker was a moving bomb.  It is not on the disaster list.  It took a bit of indignation to get a new "slow down" sign put in place.  

Highway problems don't go entirely unaddressed.  A white fog-line is painted on the right hand of the asphalt and now small "fins" have been implanted on the center yellow line to "rumble" if you get into the oncoming lane. 

Dam Failure was high on everyone's list because of the then-recent failure of Swift Dam.  The smaller dams at the two ends of Lake Francis were seen as vulnerable but not widespread in terms of destruction.  In this early version, the writers think that Valier gets its water from Lake Francis, which is not true.  Rather, water comes from wells inside the city limits.

Drought has been more of a worry since global warming.  It reduces incomes, aggravates soil erosion via wind, and affects the whole irrigation system.  In Pondera County before 2004, there had been drought in six of seven years.  In 2002 alone drought meant $637,000 in losses.  The greatest one year loss was $l.7 million but the year is not given.

Earthquake is inevitable, given that the Rockies were raised by two tectonic plates smashing into each other.  The pattern has been quite a few minor "shakes" but not many major ones.  No one has died from them here.

Flood is of course a worry, mostly in the spring when the snowmelt releases a lot of water if the weather turns warm.  There are no designated floodplains.  Minor flooding seems to happen about every third year and major floods about every eleven years.  (I've been told it corresponds with sunspot storms and very good berry-picking.)  So called "hundred year floods" happened in 1964, 1975 and 1986.  Clearly they need a new name.  This report was written before worry earthquakes potentially caused by frakking at oil wells.

"Hailstorms have caused more disasters in Pondera County than any other event but windstorms."  Most damage is to crops throughout the fields and can mean major financial losses unless there is insurance.  The towns suffer indirectly from the lack of income.

Landslides are so linked with mountains in our minds that this document doesn't consider landslides down the sides of deep coulees, esp. in the cuts where highways must cross.  The report says they could find no records of landslides in Pondera County.  None will sweep away the towns.

Severe winter storms happen mostly in two periods:  October/November and February/March.  "Winter storms can include sleet, ice storms or freezing rain, heavy snowfall or blizzards.  Blizzards may occur with or without snowfall, and are characterized by low visibility caused by high winds and blowing snow."  There may be extremely low temps and the storms may linger for days.  "Severe winter storms create conditions that disrupt essential regional systems such as public utilities, telecommunications, and transportation routes." This means food and fuel may not get through reliably and there may not be access to medical services.  The report was written before the vast fields of windmills and so far none has been tested by really severe weather.

Tornadoes and Microbursts are phenomena of our ocean of air, must bigger than in most places.    There have been at least six in Pondera County.  We often see the twisters depending from high clouds.  "In June of 1994, a microburst in Conrad caused $5.5 million in damages and a power outage."  They can crash airplanes and have in other places.

Volcanic Ash Fall is a problem because the jet stream passes over us from the West and carries ash from the volcanic eruptions in the active northwest.  In 1980 Mt. St. Helens sent very fine ash over the area.  It damages lungs and overburdens roofs.

Wildfire can erupt on grass or in forests.  Summertime fires in forests envelop the area in smoke.  Historic buildings can be wiped out.  Lightning is frequent in some seasons and the railroad can also spark fires.  So far no fires have gotten into towns.

Windstorms occur more frequently in this place more than any other dangerous natural phenomenon, ripping off roofs and throwing debris against everything.  39 major windstorms have been recorded since 1963.  (and until 2004, when this was written.)  The wind has been recorded at more than 100 mph, which is a hurricane speed and does comparable damage.

We still haven't decided whether our fellow humans are natural disasters and what to do about them.

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