The way Allen Schlag sees it, the less you hear from him, the better.
“I’m a person that after a year like 2010, 2011, I really quickly try to find my anonymity again,” he says.
Schlag is a hydrologist for the National Weather Service — and for most of the year, you don’t hear much from him. But when North Dakota’s rivers and creeks threaten to flow out of their banks, Allen Schlag springs into action.
“Half the time I tell people when they ask what I do, I say I’m in communication,” he says. “Because we spend so much time explaining to people what we think we’re seeing out in nature.”
He helps make the call when it’s time to issue a flood watch or warning, and he helps the Weather Service craft their river level forecasts (those line graphs we spent so much time studying this spring). “I always have to ensure that we’re seeing the correct data.”
Much of that work can be done at his desk. But sometimes, it calls for a field trip.
Here he is at the Apple Creek river gauge near Menoken.
“So this is a wire weight,” he explains. “As soon as it touches the water’s surface — there it is. About 10.8 feet.”
Schlag says spending his days thinking about water just makes sense for him.
“If it’s not a hobby for me… it’s more of an obsession I would say,” he says. “Because as a kid I could literally sit alongside a stream and just watch the water run for hours at a time. I preferred to be fishing! But I could just watch the water run.”
And while it sometimes means long hours and bad news for homeowners on the water, he says each day is a chance to further a noble mission: “Protect life and property.”
Allen Schlag — an expert on North Dakota waters — is Someone You Should Know.
Schlag also specializes in a lack of water. He contributes to the U.S. Drought Monitor for North Dakota — and he says some parts of our state are already reporting near-drought conditions.