Flood Watch 2020: What to keep an eye on

River levels remain elevated as we head deep into the middle of winter and that continues to cause concern for river flooding prospects here in the Quad Cities.

Looking back at the conditions that led to our extreme flooding in 2019, there are some similarities, including heavy rainfall being observed in the spring, high water levels, and saturated soils. With these conditions currently present, our risk for river flooding this spring remains elevated.

We also have to watch carefully conditions to our north in parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin where soils are currently saturated. These areas are expected to receive above precipitation in the coming months, both in the form of rain and snow, as an active jet stream steers several systems towards this region.

Closer to home here, our precipitation trend is also expected to remain above normal, meaning higher than average snow and rainfall.

Recently, I spoke with Jessica Brooks, a Hydrologist at the National Weather Service in the Quad Cities about our prospects for seeing flooding this spring. While there has been some bad news, there’s also a little bit of good news mixed in, too. The fact that frost really hasn’t established itself in the ground yet is allowing whatever rainfall and snowmelt we receive to be absorbed, rather than run completely off.

What remains concerning is the fact that the current river levels remain elevated for this time of year, both on the Rock and Mississippi River. Current levels are even higher than last year at this time.

The Rock River is a bit more vulnerable compared to the Mississippi River. A narrower channel means the potential for ice jams is more significant, especially with the elevated river levels currently. While we don’t have any historical data to compare the current stage too, the fact that the river remains elevated compared to last year is also quite concerning.

The first Spring Flood Outlook will be issued on February 13 followed by additional updates on February 27 and March 12. These outlooks will include probabilities concerning how severe the flooding may be in the upcoming months.

The biggest thing to watch in the coming weeks?

-How much snowfall and rainfall we receive, especially if it’s heavy.
-How much frost develops during cold snaps. The deeper the frost layer, the more water that will runoff into area rivers for a longer period of time.

If we get in another situation where the ground freezes followed by heavier precipitation, we will certainly continue to look at rises on many area rivers. Remember, with the water levels already running higher than normal, there is less of a buffer between current levels and flood stage levels.

You can listen to our full podcast episode by clicking here.

Meteorologist Andrew Stutzke

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