It came upon a midnight rainy….

And indeed it was much like “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day”: a blustery day turned into a blustery night. Wow! What a lot of rain! But how do you see a real measurement of what’s going on in the creeks?  Ever been away but you wanted to know what’s happening back in Mountaintown Creek? For that let’s go first to the US Geological Survey. In crossing some of our local river bridges you may have seen something like this:

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An automated river gauge. Photo courtesy US Geologic Survey

Ever heard a newscaster say, “the so-and-so river is at X number of feet at the Highway 1 bridge?” No one stands out there with a yardstick – thank goodness! – to measure that. Instead, USGS uses an automated station that includes a sophisticated “yardstick” and rain gauge to monitor river height, discharge rate (how many cubic feet of water pass per second), and local rainfall amounts. Older gauges look more like metal barrels. You can see one easily on the west side of the Ellijay River bridge on Old Highway 5 north of town. These stations capture the data and transmit it in real-time to the USGS. The USGS then makes the data available to the public and the National Weather Service. The National Weather Service’s River Forecast Centers monitors the USGS data so the Weather Service can issue watches or warnings of “flash floods” or “areal floods“. These forecasts are monitored by local media and public safety officials, which then relay those alerts to the public.

The Southeast RFC covers our area. Its website includes a map of all of the automated river gauge stations in the RFC’s forecast area. Sure enough, we have one for our little corner of the world. It’s MNCG1 -Mountaintown Creek. It’s a gauge on Highway 282, known locally as Tails Creek Road.

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The map view of the Southeast River Forecast Center’s river gauges. MNCG1 is on Mountaintown Creek – south of Mountaintown itself – on Tails Creek Road. Courtesy National Weather Service. 

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, this station is maintained with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Environmental Protection Division.

Why is MNCG1 a good indicator of what’s happening upstream in Mountaintown? MNCG1 is the closest gauge as well as the first gauge downstream of us. As a downstream gauge it will usually be a lagging indicator of what’s happening upstream. Unfortunately we have no gauges that are closer in this watershed. The ideal situation would be if we had a gauge upstream of us.  Nevertheless, let’s see what’s going on locally:

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By 9 a.m. Christmas Eve the Mountaintown Creek station indicates that the creek level was falling from a 10-foot crest between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. The fall continued through “press time”.

As of 10 a.m., Mountaintown Creek had crested – at least momentarily – and was receding. The gauge had monitored fairly steady river levels since 3 a.m. on December 23. After 9 p.m. on December 23, Mountaintown’s level rocketed up from roughly four feet to ten. By 9 a.m. it appeared to be dropping. As a “lagging indicator,” MNCG1 would indicate that the creek has already fallen upstream in Mountaintown.  Now, will it continue to drop for us? We’ll see. It it raining again after a break this morning. Mountaintown and MNCG1 are close enough that they ought to get the same amounts of rain. Any extra rain that falls in the upper reaches of the watershed, though, may create a “pulse” of higher flow & stream height that won’t reach MNCG1 for a period of time. Until any pulse from the latest rain gets there, MNCG1 may reflect a further drop in stream height.

Merry Christmas!