Experts monitoring flood risk as Spring melt approaches

    Iowa River in downtown Iowa City on Thursday, February 21, 2019

    After a brutal stretch of winter weather, most Iowans are dreaming of the warmth that come come from the Spring months. But there is a downside to our eventual warm up. After one of the snowiest periods in Iowa history, forecasters warn of a higher risk of spring flooding as a result of the eventual snow melt.

    “I think the concern is there just because of the amount of water that’s already in the system.” said Nathan Young, Associate Director of the Iowa Flood Center. "It's an elevated risk for a lot of areas of the state."

    Right now, several inches of snow blanketing the state lie in wait, ready to melt into drainage systems just trying to keep up. And if that happens fast, river banks won't be able to hold it all in. "Because the ground's frozen, it's not going to be able to absorb moisture, so everything's going to runoff quickly." said WeatherFirst Chief Meteorologist Terry Swails. Adding to the problem, our record stretch of cold weather in late January, along with several other ingredients. "Just how much moisture is in that snow and how fast that thaw comes and how much rain occurs at that time, you throw all of those together, you get the perfect scenario, you get a flood, if everything comes gradually and easily, then it'll be mitigated very easily." Says Swails.

    Some have compared this winter to the one that preceded the Flood of 2008, but experts say that's just not a fair comparison. Swails points out that the 2008 flood was actually a late Spring event, and not directly connected to the snow melt. "This is something we go through every year, we always look at these parameters because we know that all the snow has quite a bit of moisture contained in it but some years we just don't have it."

    And even if the unthinkable happens, Iowa is far better prepared than a decade ago. Thanks to the efforts of the Iowa Flood Center, many of the gaps in river monitoring are now filled with new sensors. And research has provided a better understanding of the impact soil moisture has on the potential for flooding.

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