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Flood disaster likely just beginning over central US with troublesome season expected

By Alex Sosnowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist
March 20, 2019, 10:19:55 PM EDT


Flooding will continue in waves and varying degrees of severity over the central United States, including a large part of the Mississippi River watershed, through the spring.

While high stream and river levels are common during the spring thaw, flooding that occurs is sometimes worse than other years.

This year will be one of the bad years for flooding in the Central states.

More flooding likely from central Plains to part of Midwest this spring

The combination of frozen ground, ice-clogged rivers and streams, a sudden thaw and heavy rain combined with a snow-eating wind contributed to the magnitude of the flooding from parts of the central Plains to the Upper Midwest thus far.

Vice President Mike Pence thanking emergency personnel in Omaha, Nebraska. (Twitter/VP)

Vice President Mike Pence surveying flood damage in Omaha, Nebraska. (Twitter/VP)

Vice President Mike Pence surveying flood damage in Omaha, Nebraska. (Twitter/VP)

Vice President Mike Pence surveying flood damage in Omaha, Nebraska. (Twitter/VP)

Vice President Mike Pence touched down in Omaha, Nebraska to survey flood damage, and thank volunteers and emergency personnel. (Twitter/VP)

Vice President Mike Pence touched down in Omaha, Nebraska to survey flood damage, and thank volunteers and emergency personnel. (Twitter/VP)

Vice President Mike Pence getting briefed while en route to Nebraska. (Twitter/VP)

(Facebook/Illinois Department of Transportation)

Flooding in Miller City, Illinois, on Tuesday, March 19.

AP

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)

(Photo/NASA)

NASA photos taken a year apart show the dramatic extent of the historic flooding devastating parts of Nebraska.

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Gabe Schmidt, owner of Liquid Trucking, back right, travels by air boat with Glenn Wyles, Mitch Snyder and Juan Jacobo, as they survey damage from the flood waters of the Platte River in Plattsmouth, Neb., Sunday, March 17.

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Gabe Schmidt, owner of Liquid Trucking, back right, travels by air boat with Glenn Wyles, Mitch Snyder and Juan Jacobo, as they survey damage from the flood waters of the Platte River in Plattsmouth, Neb., Sunday, March 17.

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Trino Nuno and his dog Tyson navigate flooded streets in Fremont, Neb., Monday, March 18, 2019. Authorities say flooding from the Platte River and other waterways is so bad that just one highway lane into Fremont remains uncovered, and access to that road is severely restricted.

(Mike Bossman / Omaha Police Department)

Historic flooding in Nebraska left some roads completely washed out and scenes of widespread devastation, dramatic aerial photo showed.

(Mike Bossman / Omaha Police Department)

Historic flooding in Nebraska left some roads completely washed out and scenes of widespread devastation, dramatic aerial photo showed.

(Photo/Bellevue Police Department)

Floodwaters inundated an intersection in Bellevue, Nebraska.

(Photo/U.S. Senator Ben Sasse)

Residents in Nebraska worked together to set up sandbags amid the historic flooding.

(Mike Bossman / Omaha Police Department)

Historic flooding in Nebraska left some roads completely washed out and scenes of widespread devastation, dramatic aerial photo showed.

(Photo/U.S. Senator Ben Sasse)

One home looked like an island as it was completely surrounded amid the historic flooding in Nebraska.

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Gabe Schmidt, owner of Liquid Trucking, right, talks to Glenn Wyles, second right, as they survey by air boat flood damage from the flood waters of the Platte River, in Plattsmouth, Neb., Sunday, March 17, 2019.

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

A BNSF train sits in flood waters from the Platte River, in Plattsmouth, Neb., Sunday, March 17, 2019.

(Twitter / Offutt AFB)

Much of Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Nebraska, where the US Strategic Command and the 557th Weather Wing and 55th Wing are located, was underwater amid the rising floodwaters.

(Photo/Christopher Heady)

Highways submerged by flood waters in Nebraska.

(Photo/@OmahaHeating)

Flooding in Ashland, Nebraska.

(Image/Gov. Pete Ricketts)

What remains after the failure of the Spencer Dam in Nebraska.

(Photo/Nebraska State Patrol)

A bridge that fell apart due to the strong current of a swollen river in Genoa, Nebraska.

(Photo/Nebraska State Patrol)

A road destroyed by flooding in Nebraska.

(Photo/U.S. Senator Ben Sasse)

Massive chunks of ice and rising floodwaters wreaked havoc in Nebraska over the weekend.

(Twitter / Offutt AFB)

Much of Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Nebraska, where the US Strategic Command and the 557th Weather Wing and 55th Wing are located, was underwater amid the rising floodwaters.

(Mike Bossman/Omaha Police Department)

Historic flooding in Nebraska left some roads completely washed out, dramatic aerial photo showed.

(Photo/Nebraska State Patrol)

A vehicle submerged in flood waters in Columbus, Nebraska.

(Photo/Mitch Schneringer)

Flooding in Arlington, Nebraska, as seen from a C150 airplane.

(Photo/Nebraska State Patrol)

A closer view of the bridge that fell apart in Genoa, Nebraska.

(Photo/Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts)

Aerial view of Nebraska flooding.

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

A Welcome to Wahoo sign stands in flood waters outside Wahoo, Neb., Wednesday, March 13, 2019.

(Photo/Nebraska State Patrol)

The Nebraska National Guard performing air rescues near Arlington, Nebraska.

(Photo/Kade Nelson)

River flooding has overtaken a highway in Columbus, Nebraska.

(Photo/@everythinglo18)

Flood waters in Cascade, Iowa, on Thursday.

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Jim Freeman tries to saw through thick ice slabs on his property in Fremont, Neb., Thursday, March 14, 2019, after the Ice-covered Platte River flooded its banks.

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Thick slabs of ice slabs surround a structure in Fremont, Neb., Thursday, March 14, 2019, after the ice-covered Platte River flooded its banks.

(Photo/Sarpy County Sheriff)

View of flooding in Sarpy County, Neb.

(Photo/Avery Andersen)

A baseball field flooded in Atlantic, Iowa.

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Drivers go through flooded highway 92, as the Cottonwood and Wahoo creeks overflow their banks, in Wahoo, Neb., Wednesday, March 13, 2019.

(Photo/Michael Martz)

Streets flooded in Boone, Iowa, on Thursday.

(Photo/@everythinglo18)

Flood waters in Cascade, Iowa, on Thursday.

(Photo/@everythinglo18)

Flood waters in Cascade, Iowa, on Thursday.

(Photo/OPDOfcBossman)

A large part of Nebraska has been hit with catastrophic flooding.

(Photo/OPDOfcBossman)

A large part of Nebraska has been hit with catastrophic flooding.


Hardest hit have been portions of Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota. The flooding already experienced may not be the last for the region.

Most of the storms are likely to occur over the southern half of the nation, rather than over the northern tier during much of the spring. Some of these storms and their heavy rain will reach some areas hit hard.

"Since El Niño is likely to persist through the spring and not weaken like it usually does this time of the year, the main storm track may remain south of the northern tier states," according to AccuWeather Lead Long-Range Meteorologist Paul Pastelok.

River Flooding This Week


While the storms are not likely to be as intense as the recent bomb cyclone, there will remain the risk of strong storms during April and May.

This setup may keep the risk of major flooding elevated well beyond this week over the central Plains in areas that have been hit with record high water.

Flood graph Plattsmouth


What about the flooding risk over the northern tier?

There is also the likelihood of flooding farther to the north over the northern Plains and the Upper Midwest in the weeks ahead, even if no major storms come through.

How severe the flooding is will depend on whether the thaw is gradual or sudden.

A few inches to a couple of feet of snow remain on the ground and rivers are still clogged with ice over the northern tier of the Central states.

There are 2-10 inches of water locked up within the snow. In some cases, this is more water than what was released farther south.

Even a gradual thaw is likely to lead to minor to moderate flooding.

River Flooding This Spring


Any sudden surge of warmth combined with heavy rain would likely lead to major and rapid flooding, perhaps on par with that of Nebraska and Iowa.

Through the end of March, the bulk of the major storms are likely to track south of the heavy snowpack region.

At the same time, days with above-freezing temperatures and nights with below-freezing temperatures should allow a gradual thaw over the northern tier.

However, should a storm strengthen significantly over the southern or central Plains, it may track farther north toward the Canada border. Such a track could trigger a rapid and severe flood event.

Flood risk to extend through spring and into the summer

Following the thaw, areas throughout the Central states may be at risk for more localized flooding of streams and rivers, depending on the track and strength of clusters of thunderstorms.

Thunderstorm complexes produce heavy rain and are responsible for the bulk of the rainfall over the Central states during the late spring and early summer.

Many rivers in the area may remain above flood stage or near flood stage for many weeks.

RELATED:
Historic Nebraska flooding visible from outer space in photos released by NASA
Preparing for the costliest weather disaster in the US: How to stay safe before, during and after a flood
What you should do if you get stuck driving in floodwaters

While evaporation rates increase exponentially during the spring, the ground may remain saturated in some areas setting the pace for more flooding. The soggy ground may also delay spring planting.


"At this time, we think the progression of thunderstorm complexes to the Canada border will be delayed a bit," Pastelok said.

"This might help mitigate the flood potential for the northern tier, but perhaps not so over the central Plains and the middle Mississippi valley and farther south."

As the spring progresses, the surge of water from the central Plains flooding and the snowmelt on the way farther north will work its way southward over the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

One surge of flooding that was initiated by heavy rain over the Tennessee Valley and lower Ohio Valley areas earlier this winter is just now cycling through the lower end of the Mississippi River.

AP Lower Mississippi Flooding

Backwater flooding covers stretches of farm lands near Yazoo City, Miss., Sunday, March 17, 2019, as seen in this aerial photograph. Various communities in the Mississippi Delta are combating both Mississippi River flooding and backwater flooding that are affecting homes, businesses and farm lands. (AP Photo/Holbrook Mohr)


A new surge of water and corresponding flooding is likely to extend from the upper Mississippi to the middle and lower parts of the river in the coming weeks and months.

Water levels on the Mississippi may have yet reached their peak during the event.

It is possible that many parts of the Mississippi River will remain above flood stage through the spring and into the first part of the summer in the slow-moving natural disaster.

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