States Could See 'Unprecedented' Flooding

This Monday, March 18, 2019 photo taken by the South Dakota Civil Air Patrol and provided by the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, shows flooding along the Missouri River in rural Iowa north of Omaha, Neb.

This Monday, March 18, 2019 photo taken by the South Dakota Civil Air Patrol and provided by the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, shows flooding along the Missouri River in rural Iowa north of Omaha, Neb. Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management via AP

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NOAA's spring outlook, issued Thursday, predicts a heightened flood risk, even as states in the Midwest are dealing with historic flooding.

Midwestern states are at a heightened flood risk this spring, bad news for large swaths of the country already grappling with devastating effects of unprecedented flooding in recent weeks, according to a spring outlook issued Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“The extensive flooding we’ve seen in the past two weeks will continue through May and become more dire and may be exacerbated in the coming weeks as the water flows downstream,” said Ed Clark, director of NOAA’s National Water Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. “This is shaping up to be a potentially unprecedented flood season, with more than 200 million people at risk for flooding in their communities.”

The outlook predicts major or moderate flood risk for 25 states through May, with above-average amounts of precipitation expected for the majority of the country. Areas at greatest risk for flooding include the upper, middle, and lower Mississippi River basins, including the mainstem Mississippi River, Red River of the North, the Great Lakes, eastern Missouri River, lower Ohio, lower Cumberland, and Tennessee River basins.

The warning comes as portions of the Midwest are in the midst of already-historic flooding, most notably in Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa. Those record-breaking floods were caused by rapid snow melt, coupled with heavier-than-average spring rains and late-season snowfalls in areas with moist soil. Some areas have experienced levels of rain and precipitation up to 200 percent above normal, according to NOAA data.

“Additional spring rain and melting snow will prolong and expand flooding, especially in the central and southern U.S.,” the outlook says. “As this excess water flows downstream through the river basins, the flood threat will become worse and geographically more widespread.”

Rainfall has been abnormal outside of the Midwest as well. In California, above-average rain pulled the entire state out of a seven-year drought. Drought conditions persist in pockets of the Southeast, Pacific Northwest and Southwest, most notably New Mexico, but “springtime rain and melting of deep snowpack are favored to slightly improve the drought there,” according to the outlook.

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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