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New flood forecaster came to the right place

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New flood forecaster Fisaha Unduche and Infrastructure Minister Steve Ashton.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

New flood forecaster Fisaha Unduche and Infrastructure Minister Steve Ashton. Photo Store

One of the first things the province's new chief flood forecaster learned as a student about Manitoba was that it flooded a lot.

Google told him that.

"When I was in Africa I Googled, 'What is the best place for water and flood fighting' and Manitoba is one of the best places," Fisaha Unduche said Monday. "I looked at other provinces, but Manitoba is one of the best known for floods."

So Unduche was sold. And he hasn't been disappointed.

The 38-year-old married father of two children was introduced by the government Monday as its new top flood forecaster, one of the more demanding positions in the province with each spring thaw. Born and raised in southern Ethiopia, he was chosen as the best of seven candidates for the job. He replaces Phillip Mutulu, who now works in Calgary for a private consulting firm.

"I'm honoured to get this position and I'll work hard and I'll make my team work hard so that Manitobans get the best forecasts they deserve," Unduche said. "I'm ready to go."

Undeche now leads a 12-person team going into flood season. Unduche's first spring flood outlook will be released later this week.

Unduche said his forecast will be similar to recent forecasts from North Dakota and Saskatchewan that have said the risk of spring flooding is low, but added that depends on how much more snow falls before spring.

"What we're expecting for this year is normal to below normal for most parts of Manitoba, which is good news for Manitobans, but it all depends how the weather co-operates in the next month as well," he said.

For the past five years Unduche was the senior water control systems planning engineer for the province where he got first-hand experience with flooding in 2009 and 2011.

He comes to the job with the province still stinging from criticism it did a poor job of forecasting 2011 flood levels in western Manitoba. The 2011 Flood Review Task Force, chaired by civil engineer David Farlinger, found the province's flood forecasting team was inexperienced and lacked the necessary resources to deal with the deluge it faced in southern Manitoba.

Unduche said the forecasting office now has a lot more tools at its disposal, including installation of new hydrometric stations to calibrate river flows, new weather stations to measure precipitation and new modelling methods to run the numbers to make accurate forecasts.

"When everything is complete and in place we believe that we have some of the best equipment and technology for any type of flood," he said.

Unduche said he came to Manitoba to further his studies at the University of Manitoba under civil engineering professor Jay Doering, where he earned his PhD in water resource engineering and researched river ice formation.

"There are three components to flood forecasting," Doering said. "There is the data, the model and there's the people. He's definitely not the weakest link. He can pull it all together. He's a very bright person.

"And it is actually nice to see our students go on and to succeed."

Prior to joining the Manitoba government, Unduche worked as a water resources engineer at AECOM, an international engineering services company.

He obtained his master of civil engineering at the International Hydraulic Engineering Institute in the Netherlands and took further post-graduate work at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 25, 2014 B1

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Updated on Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 6:34 AM CST: Replaces photo

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