It may look like just a big gray box, but the information it contains inside could save a life.
Representatives of the National Weather Service in Little Rock and Memphis and representatives of the United States Geological Survey converged at the Old Hardy Gym Feb. 5 to tell local residents and officials just what having three additional flood warning systems could mean to those living or camping along the Spring River.
"This flood warning system is just another tool to help us do our job," said Steve Bays, hydrologist with the NWS.
To provide more warning for residents on the upper portion of the Spring River (Fulton and Sharp counties) the two organizations suggested three additional streamgages be erected -- one on the Warm Fork River near Thayer, Mo., another on the Myatt Creek near Mammoth Spring and another streamgage on the South Fork River near Saddle.
"We know it will be a help for our community -- our entire community," Hardy Mayor Nina Thornton said. "We have a real need for this and if it saves one life it's worth every single penny."
The NWS and the USGS recently upgraded the streamgage near the Spring Street Bridge in Hardy to be used as a flood warning system. The upgrades to the Hardy system totalled $8,000 in equipment and labor, said Jaysson Funkhouser, surface water specialist with the USGS. The yearly maintenance is $14,300. All costs are paid for by the USGS and the NWS.
Interest in such a warning system was piqued after the September storms. During a three-day period Hardy received 11 inches of rain, Bays said.
With the upgrades, the Hardy station measures rainfall amounts as well as determines stages and rises at that site on Spring River. The station reads the information every 15 minutes and sends the information to the weather service each hour by satellite.
The station also computes its own data. Rene Freret, hydrologic technician with the USGS, said the streamgage modem will dial out to officials and the NWS when there is more than two inches of rain per hour, when the river gets to eight feet and when there is greater than a three foot rise per hour. The streamgage also calls to the Sharp County 9-1-1 once a week to make sure the station is in working order, he said.
Hardy's flood warning system is useful in alerting residents downstream if they need to evacuate, but doesn't help the Hardy area or areas further north prompting the interest in the three new streamgages.
"What you've had in the past was (Police Chief) Ernie (Rose) and myself out watching the river and we don't go to Mammoth," said Hardy Fire Chief Lonnie Phelps.
The closest streamgages to Hardy are in Mammoth Spring, which only measures the flow from the spring, and another gage at Imboden.
To install streamgages at all three sites and have them serve as a flood warning system would cost an estimated $89,100 for the first year with yearly operation and maintenance fees of $20,000, Funkhouser said. Those funds would not be paid by the USGS and the NWS. Instead those costs would have to be paid for locally.
Funkhouser said there are currently 129 streamgages located throughout the state. Most of those are funded by several agencies, he said.
Hardy Police Chief Ernie Rose said canoe rental businesses, campsite owners, river residents, counties and cities could partner together to fund the project.
"If we just save one life it means a lot," he said.
Jim Pitcock of Sen. Mark Pryor's office said the senator is interested in the project and is willing to assist with the funding.
"This sounds like something FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) would have money for," he said. "We could help and we'd be more than willing to do so."
After the meeting Sharp County Judge Larry Brown said he will discuss the issue with the Sharp County Quorum Court. He also said the county is looking at an additional way to reduce fatalities in floods. County Road Superintendent Dan Melbourne recently suggested the county put gates at the most dangerous low water bridges in the county, Brown said. The county is looking into that prospect.
Until a flood warning system is obtained, residents are best kept informed by using a NOAA radio, said John Robinson, warning coordination meteorologist with the NWS. The radios give continuous local weather updates along with watches and warnings, he said. The radios are most helpful at night, the times most flooding and tornado fatalities occur, he said.