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Despite Lack of Snow in Southern Areas, Spring Flood Potential Normal
March 4, 2010
AUGUSTA, MAINE — Despite a ”topsy-turvy” winter that has brought far more snow to Washington DC than to Maine, spring flood potential is in the normal range for the time of year, according to Maine’s River Flow Advisory Commission. The Commission, meeting today in Augusta, reviewed information on current hydrologic conditions across the state, as well as short-term weather forecasts.
“The snowpack in the headwaters of our major rivers is in the normal range for the time of year, thanks in large part to the storm last week,” said Bob Lent, Director of the USGS Maine Water Science Center and co-chairman of the Commission. “There may be a sense of complacency that the flood risk is over because there is very little snow in the southern part of the State, and the very visible ice jam in the Kennebec is gone. But risk factors for spring flooding are still there.”
Heavy rains can cause flooding at any time of year. However, additional risk factors in the spring include snowpack, frozen or saturated ground, and river ice.
The headwaters of the Kennebec, Androscoggin and Penobscot Rivers have an average 5 to 7 inches of water contained in the snowpack, with locally higher amounts, according to this week’s survey. This puts most of the headwaters areas in the normal range for the time of year.
According to the National Weather Service, the outlook for the next 8 to 14 days is for higher than normal temperatures, and lower than normal precipitation. However, this general trend this does not preclude a rain event that would increase stream flows directly and through snowmelt.
Although the major ice jam on the Kennebec River has dissipated, some ice jams remain in Piscataquis and Franklin Counties. Ice also remains in Aroostook County rivers, although slightly less thick than normal.
River basin managers report that their spring drawdowns are progressing. The operators of Maine’s storage dams typically draw down reservoirs in advance of spring runoff. This allows them to hold back rainfall and snowmelt during a spring flooding event. However, smaller river basins do not have storage dams, and dam operators cannot hold back water in a major rain event. Last week’s storm in southern Maine demonstrated how heavy rainfall can bring up flows quickly and cause flooding in smaller river basins such as the Salmon Falls or Mousam in York County.
Preparedness is the key to minimizing the impact of flooding or of any emergency, according to Rob McAleer, Director of the Maine Emergency Management Agency, and co-chair of the Commission. Families, schools, communities and businesses should review their plans for flooding emergencies, as well as their flood insurance coverage.
“Spring conditions can change rapidly,” said McAleer. “Stay aware of National Weather Service forecasts as the spring progresses. Talk to local officials and your County Emergency Management Agency about flood preparedness in your community, and how to build an emergency plan for your family, business or school. And, it is most important to check your flood insurance coverage if you live or have a business in a flood-prone area. Most home and business owner’s policies do not cover flood damages.” New flood insurance policies generally carry a 30-day waiting period before taking effect.
Commission members will continue to stay in close communication throughout the spring season. Snow surveys will be conducted each week from now until the snow cover is gone.
The River Flow Advisory Commission meets annually in late winter to share information, examine potential for spring flooding and to renew operational protocols. The Commission is composed of state, federal and industry representatives with an interest in hydrologic issues. The full report of the March 4 meeting will be available at http://www.maine.gov/rfac, along with weekly snow surveys and many information sources concerning flooding.