April 17 brought a welcome addition to precipitation totals temporarily easing the drought for some areas on and near Fort Sill.

For Lawton-Fort Sill residents the storm nearly filled both lakes Lawtonka and Ellsworth, two of the three reservoirs Lawton uses for its water supply.

However, as is the case with many spring storms in this part of the country, the rain arrived with damaging hail and a near constant threat of tornados.

Before severe weather billows up, Fort Sill has emergency action plans developed by the Directorate of Emergency Services to respond and restore order to the post.

Hieu Deng, Department of Public Works operations and maintenance branch chief, coordinates contractors' response to needs within DPW's purview.

"I'll verify with contractors that we still have money and materials to respond," he said. "We'll also ensure their equipment is maintained and ready, and maintenance crews are prepared to respond."

Their main contractor, Professional Contract Services Inc. (PCSI) of Austin, Texas, stood ready as the storm swept through the area, then fanned out along with Deng and his employees to survey damage and prioritize cleanup actions.

Wayne Taylor, PCSI operations manager, said his company employs about 230 maintenance workers, such as plumbers, carpenters, electricians and groundskeepers, to take care of facilities on post.

Prior to the storm's arrival PCSI positioned heavy equipment and operators in the 1400 and 1900 areas to respond to emergencies as needed. Taylor said two people were available 24 hours a day.

Often, such storms inflict lightning strikes on transformers, down power lines and lead to flooding. If this were the case, Taylor said electricians and plumbers would forego their normal maintenance responsibilities and effect repairs to return utility services to the post.

In this instance, eight heavy equipment operators became the chief assets of restoral as they swung into action April 18 around 9 a.m. Their work consisted of removing debris from bridges and low-water crossings here. Swift action and the increased water levels helped crews remove tangles or use the rain swollen rivers to move debris downstream. Hoisting and removing the wood one dumptruck load at a time could have taken a week or more to finish, said Deng.

"This storm became good training for our people, who normally take care of water systems and clean drains, just not this massive an amount of work," said Taylor. "I believe this shows we provide good, quick service to the community to get at this debris, move it out and restore routes to regular traffic."

On the post's east side, Hoyle Bridge looked as if loggers floated tremendous rafts of trees down to the bridge where high water snarled trunks, limbs and stumps into a tangle that threatened the recently constructed concrete vehicle bridge. Backhoe, crane and dump truck operators began work April 18 lifting some debris and loading dump trucks or dropping the wood downstream back into Cache Creek.

"Some of the debris we allowed to creek to move, because those big trunks help clear other snags," said Taylor, who added Pig Farm Crossing provided crews an easier location to remove the debris.

Throughout post the eight-person heavy equipment team worked about four full days to restore drainage areas and washed-out roads.

Deng said the maintenance contract included provisions for storm cleanup, unless crews required overtime to complete the work.

"We were able to manage this so far using regular work crews and man hours," he said.

Beneficial storm
Clint Langford, Fort Sill fire chief, said rain totals varied greatly across the area as Medicine Park topped 6 inches while points south and east of Lawton received far less than an inch of precipitation. He added too much water at one time doesn't eliminate the drought either.

"This is the spring growing season so fire-wise it's pretty safe out there, but the question is how long will it last," he said.

Fire threats will likely renew again as summer arrives.

"We're not out of the woods, but definitely a lot better than we were two months ago," he said.

Because of the ongoing drought, Langford said Fort Sill and Lawton fire deparments didn't test hydrants like they would normally do to save water. And, though a lot of trees and limbs clogged up creeks, there's still a lot of dead wood in training areas that will pose a danger until it either rots or burn up.

"So far what we've received in rainfall wasn't enough to change the long-term drought," he said. "Short-term, it helped tremendously, but as temperatures rise and the land dries outs we will need to be on our guard and careful with fire."

As Earth Day receeds into memory, Glen Wampler, Natural Resources and Enforcement Branch supervisor, spoke of the dramatic change to parched watering holes on and near post. He said two-thirds of the post's 160 ponds dried up during the prolonged drought.

"Most years we might have six or seven ponds go dry, but through this drought we got into some situations where we didn't know all the answers, because it was drier than we've ever seen," he said.

For now, water is no longer an issue on West and Quanah ranges as Wampler said all ponds except for Potawatomi Twins on West Range are full. Even that impoundment is nearly topped off.

With the arrival of all that fresh water, Wampler said a good stress confronts his personnel.

"We will start looking at where we'll get fish to restock ponds that went dry," he said.

Natural resources personnel will transport sunfish from ponds that kept water; other fish will be purchased through funds raised by post fishing permits. Wampler said it's important for people to let natural resources restock fish.

"Fish can be expensive to buy, and the last thing we want is for a well meaning fisherman to throw a couple bass in a lake that will eat up all the little fish," he said.

With every gain in the natural world, often setbacks occur, too. Wampler said the storm hit during prime nesting season for many ground nesting birds, especially turkeys. He said the torrent probably wiped out most of these nests on Quanah and West ranges.

Despite this setback, the increased greenery should bode well for the deer and elk populations as does and cows have started dropping fawns and calves. While this produces a softer landing, the real benefit is the new growth will boost milk production in the new mothers.

Page last updated Thu April 25th, 2013 at 16:28