City of Austin launches flash flood website


by ASHLEY GOUDEAU / KVUE News and photojournalist DAVID GARDNER

Bio | Email | Follow: @AshleyG_KVUE

Posted on February 27, 2013 at 7:09 PM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 27 at 7:21 PM

AUSTIN -- They don't call Austin "Flash Flood Alley" for nothing. An hour of rain can turn a quiet creek into a raging river. Case in point, Shoal Creek last July.

"There's a lot of rock below the very little soil that we have. So when water falls on the ground, it doesn't have anywhere to go," said City of Austin Flood Plain Administrator Kevin Shunk.

Rain water spills into the creeks and over roads with a force so strong it's equal to 25 fire trucks barreling down the creek per second. And more often than not, drivers test their luck.

"When we have a major event, they'll probably perform anywhere between 20 to 50 rescues in one event," said Austin Fire Department Lieutenant Travis Maher.

In September 2010, a woman was killed after she went around a barricade trying to cross RM 2222 near Loop 360. And this past May, firefighters had to rescue a 21-year-old man on Park Road near Loop 360. There were no barricades up and he didn't see the water covering the road.

Now, the City of Austin is trying to prevent these tragedies from happening before you ever get on the road. The City has launched a new website, Each of the green dots on the map represents a low water crossing. If it turns red, the road is closed. There's also a cell phone version of the site and both versions are updated in real time.

"Therefore [drivers] can get an alternate route and they'll never have to approach the flooded road," said Shunk.

There are 16 low water crossings in Austin that could flood with just an inch of rain upstream. The City has installed flashing lights at 14 of them. The other two have crossing gates. At all of the crossings there are switches in the creeks that trigger the lights and gates. But there are another 600 streets that could flood in a major storm which is why City staff says the new website is such an asset to drivers.

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