Platte County Emergency Manager Tim Hofbauer on Monday stressed that residents should not panic over potential ice jams happening again this year as winter progresses.
"A number of things happened perfectly last year that caused the situation we had," Hofbauer said.
Two of those conditions are actually relevant right now: The ground moisture is extremely high because the area experienced a wet summer and fall, and the rivers are still running high.
"That's two strikes against us, but we don't have the ice we've had so far this year because we've been having a warmer winter," Hofbauer said. "So it depends how long down the road it stays cold. The thicker the ice gets, the worse it can be."
With chillier temperatures and snowfall the last few days, the Central Platte Natural Resources District issued a message to area residents to remind them that they'll likely start seeing ice formation in the Platte River channels and what they should do to prepare for a potential problem.
"Once ice completely clogs a waterway, the water can back up quickly. It can occur any time, day or night. If you live near a river channel with ice, be constantly aware of the level of the water and amount of ice. Be prepared to evacuate," CPNRD stated. "Ice jams can occur from December-March. Although they can occur whenever the weather is cold enough; historically most form in January, February and March, according to a January 1996 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report titled: 'Ice Jam Flooding and Mitigation, Lower Platte River Basin, Nebraska.'"
The organization stated that even if water looks shallow, people should not drive over it.
"Floodwaters and wash-outs can be deceptively deep and people have been trapped in their vehicles and/or drowned when trying to cross flooded or washed out areas," CPNRD stated.
The following information is adapted from the Federal Emergency Management Agency website regarding disaster preparedness: www.ready.gov/make-a-plan:
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Steps to get ready for potential ice jam flooding:
• Start a 24-hour watch to keep regular observation on the ice/water.
• Develop a calling tree of neighbors to notify if a flood emergency begins so everyone can get out.
• Call 911
• Identify backup escape routes and methods if the main driveway is flooded.
• Make a Safety Kit: water, flashlights, batteries, backup cell phone charging system, food, blankets, tools to shut utilities off, dry clothes.
• Rendezvous plan if flood occurs while family is separated. A designated third-party number to call to check in and a common place to meet.
Hofbauer again reiterated residents should not panic about the weather and the potential for flooding right now, noting officials will continue to monitor river levels. Still, things can change quickly, he said. Hofbauer stated it never hurts to have a plan in place for any type of emergency so that people are prepared when and if one comes about.
"It's not looking bad at this point," Hofbauer said. "But we always tell people to have a suitcase packed in case you have to evacuate your home for any reason."
Those interested in learning more about potential ice jams and upcoming weather conditions are encouraged to attend a 7 p.m. Feb. 13 meeting in the community room of the Platte County Courthouse, 2610 14th St. in Columbus. Dave Pearson, senior service hydrologist for the National Weather Service out of Omaha/Valley, will present a forecast and ice jam outlook. The meeting is free and open to the public.
"We will have a better understanding of what the risks are this spring," Hofbauer said.