Snowfall could cause flooding concerns

Published 7:49 am Friday, January 21, 2011

Will December’s heavy snowfall lead to spring flooding?

That’s the question the National Weather Service will try to answer at the end of January when it releases its first forecast for spring flooding.

Email newsletter signup

Few others have been able to predict an accurate outcome thus far because too many factors are involved. The snow melt rate, fall’s soil saturation, rain, ice jams and log jams all play a role in the equation. Yet they are factors which Corey Hanson, local Department of Natural Resources hydrologist, said are sometimes impossible to predict.

Hanson and Tom Stangelend of the National Weather Service referred to the amount of water in the snow as a major factor. But it’s not easy to predict when that amount varies throughout small regions.

To get an accurate idea, scientists use several different methods of testing. Some of them are as simple as melting snow and measuring the water, others use satellite readings and gamma-ray equipment.

At this point, that method may be all anyone has to rely on. Hanson said he has heard some buzz about the sheer amount of snow this year causing problems. However, it’s all speculation right now.

Either way, he recommends flood insurance for everybody. Because flood insurance takes 30 days to go into effect and floods are so unpredictable.

“Do it now,” Hanson said.

A quick melt of a lot of snow can pose a potentially dangerous situation. Large chunks of broken ice can dam waterways and cause their own floods.

“They can be very messy; they’re nearly impossible to predict,” Hanson said.

Although snow accumulation is thick this year, nobody seems to be panicking.

Bev Nordby of the Cedar River Watershed District is one in that group.

“If you look at the history of the Cedar River, our floods occur in the fall,” she said.

Those floods have been associated with rain, as well. As many others have already said, only time will tell.