BESSEMER — Flood season preparations are under way in Gogebic and Iron counties.
According to Iron County Emergency Management Director Stacy Ofstad, roughly 10,000 sand bags have been purchased this year, with about 17,500 bags available in case of flooding emergencies.
Sand bags have also been purchased in Gogebic County.
The last big flood on the Gogebic Range was in 2002, said Jim Loeper, Gogebic County Emergency Management Director. He has reviewed records of the flood to determine what emergency management officials had trouble with and what can be done to ensure a smoother response.
“As far as being prepared, I believe we are,” said Loeper.
Emergency action guidelines are in place in both counties and volunteers would be needed to help with flooded locations.
Some preparations have taken place to avoid flooding, including tree removal from the Montreal River.
“Iron and Gogebic counties, the city of Hurley, and the city of Ironwood, worked in a joint effort with the Department of Natural Resources in Michigan and Wisconsin to remove numerous downed trees in the Montreal River between Hurley and Ironwood,” Ofstad said. “This was to alleviate the possibility of flooding because of snow and ice dams building up because of the trees.”
Residents will receive warnings from the National Weather Service, as well as county-based notification programs, should flooding be imminent.
In Gogebic County, the Emergency Management Network will notify residents of flooding, while Iron County residents will receive notifications through a Code Red system.
As of right now, all anyone can do is wait.
“Right now, we have perfect weather to avoid flooding,” said Loeper. “Warming up during the day, then cooling down at night ensures a good pace of snowmelt.”
Ofstad said, “At this point, if the snow keeps going slowly, I don’t see an issue. But if we get another foot of snow and an inch of rain, and it were to go quickly, we would have flooding.”
Iron County’s terrain helps avoid major flooding, unlike areas in southern and central Wisconsin.
“Other than the city of Hurley and a few other places in the county, there are very few other structures that are affected by flooding,” Ofstad said. “We usually have localized flooding on certain roads and travelers are asked to be very cautious. It is not recommended to drive through standing water because you don’t know if the culverts are still in place, or what the ground is like underneath.”
Water levels are being monitored on the Montreal, which are partially controlled by the Xcel Energy dam in Gile, but everyone is waiting on the weather.
“In 2002, there was a 98-degree day, so everything melted at once. If we get a downpour and it lasts for a long time, it will flood,” Loeper said. “We are at the mercy of Mother Nature.”
This year, considerable snow in March and April has added to flood danger.
The 2002 flood hit Wakefield hard and the Montreal flooded over the bridge on Silver Street, prompting sandbagging to save homes along the river.