The risk for flooding along the Platte and Loup rivers is still high; however, a repeat of last year’s flooding is unlikely, according to reports from the National Weather Service.
Officials from NWS’ Valley office presented the findings Thursday night during a spring flood meeting at Columbus Middle School. David Pearson, a top hydrologist for the NWS, said that the factors that could potentially lead to flooding—things like soil moisture, precipitation, frozen ground and the amount of water in the rivers—are in a varying state at the current moment.
For instance, the soil is still very wet in the area, but there is very little snow and the ground isn’t as frozen as it was when the flooding occurred.
“Our snowpack is below normal risk,” Pearson said. “Soil moisture is a factor that is above normal. It was a wet year last year. A lot of the water did soak in, but not all of it has been able to move through the ground. There’s still a good amount of moisture in the ground. It’s not extreme (but) it’s not incredible like it is in South Dakota and North Dakota.
“The ground is frozen, but it’s not as deep as it was last year, when we had 2 feet of frozen ground in some areas.”
Pearson noted that there were multiple factors that led to the extent of the flooding last year, from a deep snowpack to the frozen ground to heavy rains and thick river ice that led to ice jams along the Loup and Platte rivers. Those factors are not in abundance as they were last year, but some still exist, as the soil is still saturated enough that the risk remains somewhat relevant for some kind of flooding this year.
“If I was giving this talk on the Missouri River, it would be a very different story,” Pearson said. “They have a really high concern for flooding this year. The water we get is cumulative, so looking at the entire (Platte-Loup) basin, it’s two different areas. So, it’s still above normal, it’s still a concern, but it’s not a major concern.”
The lack of ice along the rivers is a good sign at least, as it means that for now the ice jams that were the cause of so much consternation last year are not as prevalent.
“The best thing about this winter thus far is the lack of ice,” Pearson said. “Every year, we worry about ice jams. 'Is it too thick?' 'Is it going to get stuck?' 'Which bridge is it going to get stuck on?'"
People were encouraged to ask questions to Pearson at the tail end of the event, which included some about potential methods for alleviating flood damage, like dredging, cleaning of trees and raising of river dikes. There were also inquiries about the blasting of ice jams, something that is not recommended due to the overall cost to both person and wildlife.
“Blasting is not authorized, at least from the government’s standpoint,” Pearson said. “Not ‘me’ government, but county government and others because it ends up being a liability.”
Overall, the outlook is cautious, as there are still factors that could lead to flooding if the conditions are right. The flood risk is still above normal, and wet conditions might change the calculus for flooding during the spring.
“If we do get into a wetter pattern, the river’s going to flood that much easier,” Pearson said. “The ground is a little wet and the river’s already high. Those two things aren’t on our side, and they’re not going to change.”
Zach Roth is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com.
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