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Coming rain could cause flooding

College students Rochelle Dukes, left, and Deidre Hicks take a break from their studies and spend a little quiet time at Riverfront Park Wednesday afternoon. The Flint River water level is higher than usual because of recent rain storms passing through the state and more rain is in the forecast this weekend, which could be a problem for low-lying areas.

College students Rochelle Dukes, left, and Deidre Hicks take a break from their studies and spend a little quiet time at Riverfront Park Wednesday afternoon. The Flint River water level is higher than usual because of recent rain storms passing through the state and more rain is in the forecast this weekend, which could be a problem for low-lying areas.

ALBANY, Ga. — Albany and Dougherty County officials are getting ready for what looks to be a wet weekend, one in which rains as heavy as eight inches could cause low-lying areas to experience flash flooding.

Albany Fire Chief James Carswell and Public Works Director Phil Roberson said Wednesday that their personnel were gearing up for possible flooding. Recent rains already have filled area holding ponds.

Kelly Godsey, with the National Weather Service in Tallahassee, said there are two “models” for precipitation and flooding potential this weekend. The first model projects as much as eight inches of rainfall and the greater threat of flash flooding and river flooding. In the second model, rainfall would amount to four-six inches. The NWS forecast has the chance of rain highest on Friday and Saturday.

In both models, the heaviest rainfall would be in Southeast Alabama and into Southwest Georgia. Godsey stressed, however, that because of the long-range nature of the forecast, uncertainty of the final outcome was high.

But emergency personnel are taking the heads up from the Weather Service seriously.

“We’ve already had some flooding last week in lower areas,” Carswell said, “but the drainage ditches, holding ponds and creeks were dry before those rains. That’s not the case this time.” With holding ponds already full, heavy rainfall would result in spillover.

This has already been one of the wettest Februarys in memory. As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, AWIS Weather Services reported that the rain gauge at Southwest Georgia Regional Airport had accumulated 9.69 inches of rain this month, 6.28 inches more than normal.

By contrast, even with an extra day because of the leap year, the entire month of February 2012 saw only 2.46 inches of rain, a deficit for that month of 2.09 inches.

The year 2012 ended up being a dry one with 31.87 inches of rain, 20.87 inches below normal. Even though last month ended at a deficit, so far this year the airport rain gauge has collected more than a third of last year’s total — 11.01 inches — giving Albany a surplus for the year of 2.29 inches, also a rarity.

According to Roberson, precautionary actions being taken are the pumping out of holding ponds, which is ongoing, and the sweeping of streets in high-risk areas.

“We’re sweeping so that leaves, tree limbs and other debris don’t block the drains and cause the sewers to back up,” Roberson said.

Officials say they want to assure residents that the situation is “nothing like” the historic floods of 1994 and 1998. Still, agencies including the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army have been apprised of the potential.

“The river is always the wild card,” Roberson said. “When it gets above 25 feet or so, that’s when you have problems. Right now it’s only 13 or 14 feet.”

According to Roberson, recent years have seen improvements in area flood management, in both technological advancements and flood experience. After the “500-year flood” of 1994, a FEMA “Hazard Mitigation” grant provided for mechanisms to close the “outfalls,” or river storm pipes. When the river rises above open outfalls it can cause the water to “percolate,” or back up into the system.

“We just want people to be aware of what’s coming,” Roberson said, “and assure them there’s no reason to panic. If their home is prone to flooding, they should be more vigilant and take the precautions necessary. The city has figured this out over the past 20 years. We know what to expect.”