Under looming clouds and a darkening sky Thursday, Carson City prepared for the possibility of severe flash flooding.
The National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch Thursday afternoon, warning a 30 percent chance of showers over the Carson Range Friday and Saturday could bring damaging floods of debris-laden water to the city.
A watch, opposed to a warning, means flooding will not occur within six hours but the watch status could change at any time, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Brian O'Hara.
"There is no way for us to pinpoint where the precipitation will be," O'Hara said, "but if it happens in those areas to the west of Carson, the water and debris will really be coming down."
The chance of rain will decrease Sunday night.
Heavy precipitation in burned areas could trigger severe flooding, O'Hara said, because there is no longer any vegetation to absorb the water.
The best way to prepare for possible flash floods is to stay away and out of the canyons west of the city and to listen to the radio for alerts.
"I wouldn't let my kids go hiking in canyon areas this weekend," O'Hara said. "It's a dangerous thing because flash floods can sweep people away very quickly."
Carson City residents were sandbagging canyon areas to the west of the city Thursday afternoon while Nevada Department of Forestry prison crews attached waddles - straw erosion control barriers - to mountain slopes facing the city.
"We're getting ready," said Andy Burnham, Carson City Development Services Director. "We've been preparing for the last few weeks."
City crews have stockpiled sandbags in nine locations along the base of the Carson range for residents to use while prison crews finished digging flood diversion channels above the water treatment plant this week.
City crews also placed sandbags along the hill behind the Washoe Tribe's Carson Colony. The colony was concerned about the threat to its private water system and storage tanks from potential flood water carried into the area through the canyon, said City Engineer Larry Werner.
Burnham said if water and debris overflow from the channels, it will be directed down roads instead of flowing directly into structures.
If the flood watch turns into a flood warning, Burnham said, development services staff will go to key locations across the city's west side.
"Then if they need to, they'll start calling people out from our offices to make decisions," he said.
Evacuation is highly improbable, he said, but there are effective evacuation plans the city has implemented in the past.
"We'll just dust them off and use them again," Burnham said.
O'Hara said the best thing to do in the case of a flash flood is to get out of the area and to higher ground with vegetation.
"If you're somewhere that's been burned over, there's nothing to climb on top of if you need to," he said. "There could be some pretty bad mud debris, so just be careful on the western side of Carson."
Contact Robyn Moormeister at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1215.