What This Snowy, Cold Winter Means For Spring Floods

All the snow and cold this Winter may actually be a good sign heading into Spring.

Seeing mounds of snow throughout the area may concern some when it comes to the upcoming flood season, but Hydrologists with the National Weather Service of the Quad Cities say what you see is not necessarily what you get and several inches of snow does not always equal several inches of flood water.

“As snow totals go, we’ve been well above normal. We’re actually nearly double from our normal snow amounts,” says Maren Stoflet, Hydrologist. “What’s interesting about that is the water equivalent has not been significant with those snows, so we’re actually stacking up to be below normal in the amount of water that the snow is actually holding.”

Stoflet says since December 1st, 2013, the Quad City area has seen 39.3 inches of snowfall compared to a normal snowfall (from December 1st-February 5) of 19.9 inches for our area.

However, the amount of precipitation that has fallen is below normal. So far, the Quad City area has gotten 2.95 inches compared to the normal 3.85 inches.

“Most of the snows that we’ve had this year have been when we’ve had really cold temperatures, so the snow has tended to be drier so it doesn’t hold as much water when it comes down,” says Stoflet. “That’s why we’ve seen that difference this year than some years recently.”

When it comes to the flood outlook though, Hydrologists like Stoflet look to the north of the Quad City area.

“We need to look at how much snow is on the ground up to the north in parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin.”

What they’ve found is the trend is pretty similar. For example, in Minnesota (Twin Cities), 38.6 inches of snow has fallen since December 1st, 2013 compared to the normal 25.3 inches. 2.88 inches of precipitation has fallen since December 1st, 2013 compared to the normal 2.16 inches, which is higher, but still close to normal, Stoflet says.

“They’ve had similar cold weather snows and with the temperatures pretty cold, the water equivalent is not real significant as far as being above normal. They’re right around normal.”

However, “normal” does not necessarily mean no flooding at all.

“We live in this part of the country so we know that flooding is part of the normal way of life here, but whether or not it’s a moderate to a major flood is the difference there.”

Stoflet says there is still a lot of winter to go, so things could still change. Hydrologists also take into account the soil conditions and the stream levels when figuring out the flood outlook, which comes out on February 20th, 2014.

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