Potential for Spring Flooding?

It might be hard to believe but the official start of spring is a little less than a month away.  Of course with the milder conditions not only comes the time to clear the shanty off the lake, but also the melting of all that snow.  This winter has featured a deficit in snowfall, particularly in January when Wausau had the 5th lowest snow total.  This winter may stand out primarily because the previous three winter seasons have featured either near or well above average snowfall in the range of 50 to 80 inches.  In case you are wondering, on average Wausau picks up 58.6" of snow and this season through February 22nd only 28.6" has fallen.

Now on to the risk of flooding due to snowmelt in the Badger State.  According to the folks at the National Weather Service in La Crosse there is a bit higher risk of flooding along the Mississippi River in Southwest Wisconsin and eastern Iowa for the spring.  Just like the snow melting off your roof is a trickle down effect, so too is how the melting snow up north fills the river downstream.  Up in Duluth, MN currently there is about 20 to 30" of snow on the ground, and even down to near La Crosse, there is 10" in snow depth.  That in itself isn't too unusual at this point in the winter, but the big factors that could lead to possible flooding include a streak of warm weather, heavy rains, or ice jams.

If you remember back in March 2004, Antigo experienced flooding after 4 inches of rain combined with melting snow and ice jams on area rivers and streams.  Is the set up in place for this to happen again somewhere in the region?  At this point, it's hard to tell since there's always the chance of another significant snowstorm in March or on the other end of the scale, a heavy rainfall.  Ice jams are also tricky to pin down too far in advance, since it all depends how quickly the ice melts on the rivers.  A quick warm up for a day or two, in conjunction with a lot of rain would be the warning signs leading to this messy situation.  Ideally, a slow melt would be the best, with temperatures that are above freezing by day and then dip back into the 20s to near 30 at night.  Add to that having rainfall under an inch per storm, allowing the frozen/soggy ground to soak up most of that moisture.  Only in a perfect world would that happen.  Odds are the snow will melt in either big chunks after the first few rainfalls this spring, or fade due to warmer weather.

Needless to say, it's a lock that at some point in March or April, there will be Flood Warnings on rivers in some part of Wisconsin.  The Fox River down in Southeastern Wisconsin seems to make the list every year, and likely some parts of the Mississippi River may be under a warning at some point this spring.  So if you do reside close to a river or in a low lying area, be sure to have a plan of action in place if and when flooding takes place.  One other thing to keep in mind, flooding can happen just about anywhere in a given year.  All it takes is a bout of heavy rainfall over a short span of time and what was a dry ditch or low spot, turns into a raging river or very large lake.  Just think back to that cluster of storms that rolled through during the early morning hours last August 14th in parts of Western and Central Wisconsin, dumping anywhere from 2 to 8" or the major flooding that ended up draining Lake Delton in June 2008.  Let's hope we can make it through this spring and summer without such dramatic flooding events.

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