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As the Snow Melts, Flood Concerns Rise

March 13, 2019 08:06 PM

(ABC 6 News) -- It’s a sound heard all around, the sound of drains filling up with water as our historic snowpack, which is just shy of 80 inches for the 2018/19 Winter Season so far, begins to melt. Which that the water equivalent… has to go somewhere.

"We had so much snow over the area; if you melt the snow, just band, we turn it into the water, it's anywhere from three to six or seven inches across the area," explained Dan Baumgardt, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in La Crosse. He also explained that there were conditions leading up to this Winter season that has contributed to the rising snow threat.

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"In 2018, it was the wettest year on record across the US, it was very wet over our region... and soil moisture is running at a very high level. So the soil can't take much more liquid to permeate into it to start with. Because it was so wet rivers are already running above what they usually do so the water levels in the rivers are already higher than normal."

While not flooding yet, the melting water is melting over ground that is still very much frozen (in some places as deep as 3 feet below the surface) along with the threat for rain from a strong low-pressure system moving through the United States. 

To reduce our chance to see any type of flooding, Baumgardt says the best case scenario would be to put all of the water from the snowpack into our waterways slowly but surely, “One of the great things for melting snow is warm during the day, so you melt some, and then you freeze at night kinda lock that water into place so it kind of runs off into the rivers in kind of spurts."

Unlike what happened back in early Spring of 1965 when rapid snowmelt occurred along with heavy rains as well as snow occurring later in the season. Those conditions occurred, like this season, on top of a deep frost. The result was major flooding across the region, with some places still keeping flooding records nearly 54 years later. 

So until the last of our snowpack melts and the ground thaws, which will hopefully be slowly for the former of the two, the threat for some sort of flooding remains.

"It all depends on the weeks to follow how warm we are, how much snow remains and what the liquid is in that snow when you melt it out. So, there's a lot of different factors that go forward so it's really hard to pinpoint how the rivers are going to behave for the next month,” said Baumgardt.

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