On flood watch

Eagles darted above the open water off Harbor Island on Thursday afternoon, as Beth Thomas stood on the shoreline near the boat launch, taking photographs with her cellphone.
Tribune Staff
Mar 21, 2014

But Thomas wasn't focused on the avian acrobatics. The director of the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Management was monitoring Grand River levels during a National Weather Service flood watch in effect through today.

“This looks good,” Thomas said as she scanned the river, watching small ice chunks flow to Lake Michigan. “This is what we need it to do. This is what needs to happen. Ice is clearing out and running out to the lake.”

Thomas was monitoring for ice jam potential. Officials in this area are keenly aware of the damage ice jams can do after they destroyed docks and sent debris flowing through the region in recent years.

Thomas has been in contact with officials from Kent and Ionia counties this week in order to get reports for the entire length of the river.

Ice jams form when water builds up behind a blockage on the river. They can be caused by large ice chunks getting hung up on each other and stopping the flow of water. The ice then forms a dam, which can cause flash flooding and also downstream damage when large volumes of ice simultaneously break free.

Thomas contacts the National Weather Service on a daily basis, and she and other public safety experts constantly watch the river.

“We monitor frequently,” she said. “There's a lot of people with their eyes on the river right now. But the fact that it's not frozen here and is running through is a good sign.”

Thomas got back into her vehicle and drove to the shoreline under the U.S. 31 drawbridge.

“Looks great,” she said above the roar of semi-trucks and vehicles crossing the bridge.

As Thomas scanned upstream toward the Holiday Inn in Spring Lake, she saw more encouraging signs.

“Those small floating ice chunks are what we want to see,” she said.

Upstream in Robinson Township, residents living along the river are keeping watch for whatever comes next.

“The water is still quite low, and I already have a place I’ll be going if I need to evacuate,” riverfront resident Mary Palazzalo said. “I am very happy about that.”

One thing she thinks has benefited the river’s free flow is the warm days followed by cold nights, which means not all of the snowpack is melting at once.

“That’s a very, very good thing when you have a slow melt like this,” Palazzalo said.

To read more of this story, see today’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.

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