Spring snowstorm adds to flooding potential for the Midwest

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 4:52 PM GMT on March 24, 2011

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A major spring snowstorm dumped heavy snow in excess of six inches over a wide swath of the Upper Midwest this week, adding to a snowpack that is already near or in excess of record levels over Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. This is bad news for residents in flood-prone areas of the Upper Midwest, as the new storm added more than half an inch of melted rainfall equivalent to the record wet snowpack. When all that snow melts in April, we can expect major and possibly record flooding for North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and the Upper Mississippi River north of St. Louis, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). Their March Spring Flood Outlook released last week warned: A large swath of the North Central United States is at risk of moderate to major flooding this spring. Heavy late summer and autumn precipitation have left soils saturated and streams running high before the winter freeze-up. National Weather Service models show this year's snowpack contains a water content ranked among the highest of the last 60 years, which is similar to the past two years. This threat area extends from northeastern Montana through Wisconsin and along the Mississippi River south to St. Louis. For the third consecutive year, forecasters predict major flooding along the Red River of the North, which forms the state line between eastern North Dakota and northwest Minnesota. Other areas of the Midwest primed for major flooding include Devils Lake in North Dakota, the Milk River in Northeastern Montana, the James and Big Sioux Rivers in South Dakota, the Minnesota River, and the Mississippi River from its headwaters near St. Paul, Minnesota, downstream to St. Louis.


Figure 1. U.S. spring 2011 flood risk. Image credit: NWS.


Figure 2. NOAA's latest significant river flood outlook shows that spring flooding is already occurring over South Dakota and on the Mississippi River near its junction with the Ohio River, but is not yet widespread across the Upper Midwest.

There is a huge amount of snow on the ground in North Dakota along the tributaries of the Red River, thanks to fall precipitation that was 150% - 300% of normal, and winter snows that have dumped up to 400% more precipitation than usual. If one were to melt this snow, it would amount to 4 - 6 inches of rain. If heavy rains occur at the same time that the snow melts, there is the potential for the greatest flood in history to affect the cities of Fargo and Grand Forks, the largest and third largest cities in North Dakota. NWS is giving a 35% chance that Fargo will see its greatest flood in history this spring, up from the 20% chance they gave in their February spring flood outlook.

The situation is similar in Minnesota, which has received about double its normal precipitation over the past 3 to 4 months, resulting in the 5th snowiest winter on record in Minneapolis. Snow depths are in excess of 20 inches over wide swaths of of the state, and this snow has a very high water content equivalent to 4 - 6 inches of rain. NWS is giving a 95% chance that the Mississippi River at St. Paul will exceed major flood stage this spring.

In South Dakota, heavy snows this winter have also left a snowpack with a high water content over the northeast corner of the state. The NWS is predicting a 25% chance that the the James River at Huron, SD will reach its highest flood height in history, and a 50% chance for the Big Sioux River at Brookings, SD.


Figure 3. The snow water equivalent of the Upper Midwest's snowpack as of March 24, 2011. Large sections of Minnesota and North Dakota have the equivalent of 3.9 - 5.9 inches of rain (purple colors) stored in their snowpack. Image credit: NWS/NOHRSC.

When will all this flooding occur?
The latest guidance from the GFS model predicts winter-like conditions will persist over the Upper Midwest for the next week, with no major storms for the region through early next week. Late next week, there is the potential for a snowstorm that could bring an additional 0.5 - 1" of melted equivalent snow, though this is very uncertain at this point. The first chance of a major thaw will not occur until Sunday, April 3. This will give some time for the current pulse of flood waters generated during last week's warm spell over South Dakota and southern Minnesota to move downstream, and makes the peak of this year's spring flood unlikely to occur until at least the second week of April. Looking back at past great floods in the Upper Midwest, the record 2009 Red River flood peaked on March 28 in Fargo. The great 1997 Red River flood that devastated Grand Forks, causing $3.5 billion in damage, crested on April 18. St. Paul's greatest flood in history crested on April 19, 1965. I expect this year's peak flood will most likely arrive during the 3rd week of April.

Mostly offshore winds expected over Japan for the next week
Radioactive plumes emitted from Japan's troubled Fukushima nuclear power plant will mostly head eastwards out to sea over the next week, thanks to high pressure that will dominate Japan's weather. Latest trajectory plots using NOAA's HYSPLIT model do not show air from the Fukushima plant heading towards Tokyo over the next four days.

Jeff Masters

Not liking Spring (all4paws)
10 inches of snow today. Not good if you're a robin.
Not liking Spring
Spring? (jf)
Spring?
Spring?

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Quoting HarryMc:


I completely agree. Since this happened, surfing the web and getting local Japanese content, I've actually learned how to use Babelfish and some of the other translation software. Neat being able to read local sites and actually understand what the strange characters are saying. Ain't technology great?


Yes, technology is great. I've never used Babelfish...but I will now :) Ya NEVER too old to learn !!
Member Since: September 16, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1492
#428
What a disturbing and powerful show of the awesome power of the waves. Thank you for sharing it
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Quoting PakaSurvivor:
you must be at work like me and they don't allow. Afraid they'll find about the site and close me down.
Yes, I am at work, but they allow me to surf the web at my desk when I am not busy. I do get all my work done and sometimes my subordinates as well. But there are things that are blocked so the computers are "protected" and so the line people won't have access.
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No wonder they are such unsafe cars...
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http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id= japans-two-incompatible-power-grids-2011-03-25

Technically interesting as it pertains to Japan's efforts to get their electrical system functioning. More interesting as it pertains to the US efforts to convert to different energy sources.

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Quoting EYEStoSEA:


Thank you, Harry....makes ya feel a little better...so terrible what happened..


I completely agree. Since this happened, surfing the web and getting local Japanese content, I've actually learned how to use Babelfish and some of the other translation software. Neat being able to read local sites and actually understand what the strange characters are saying. Ain't technology great?
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Quoting HarryMc:


Yes thankfully. I just looked up the video... it was taken at a Mitsubishi Paper Mills plant in Oirase Town, Aomori Prefecture.


Thank you, Harry....makes ya feel a little better...so terrible what happened..
Member Since: September 16, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1492
Quoting kwgirl:
AussieStorm, do you have a link to that video. on my computer your post is blank for the video. Though if it is from you tube, forget it. I am prohibited from going to that site.
you must be at work like me and they don't allow. Afraid they'll find about the site and close me down.
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Quoting EYEStoSEA:


Do we know if the cameraman survived ?...or just the camera....A VERY disturbing video.


Yes thankfully. I just looked up the video... it was taken at a Mitsubishi Paper Mills plant in Oirase Town, Aomori Prefecture.
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Quoting AussieStorm:
I don't know if anyone has posted this before. Watch till the last second.



Do we know if the cameraman survived ?...or just the camera....A VERY disturbing video.
Member Since: September 16, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1492
AussieStorm, do you have a link to that video. on my computer your post is blank for the video. Though if it is from you tube, forget it. I am prohibited from going to that site.
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It looked like there were people on some of the boats in the video.
Member Since: July 11, 2006 Posts: 14 Comments: 11143
Quoting Minnemike:
that is a very telling 9 minutes, and perhaps a very useful educational tool for those in Tsunami zones... every precaution is necessary, you never know when the series of rising swells will abate!

Yep. Also, is it just me, or did anyone else get a feeling of fear from watching the water rise? If we can get that feeling just from the video... I don't even want to contemplate the terror the person doing the video was feeling.
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Quoting AussieStorm:
I don't know if anyone has posted this before. Watch till the last second.

that is a very telling 9 minutes, and perhaps a very useful educational tool for those in Tsunami zones... every precaution is necessary, you never know when the series of rising swells will abate!
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darpa- unit one is screwd...
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Quoting jeffs713:

If the meteor hits near 120E or so, North America would be impacted mostly by the climactic changes, not direct effects. For example, I live on the northern Gulf Coast, at an elevation of 156 feet, roughly 70 miles inland. In the gulf, with that large of an impact, if it lands in the Pacific, there is a CHANCE there would be a significant tsunami (100m+) in the GOM. There is a MUCH larger chance of the effects being primarily in the form of cloudcover, climate change, massive storms, and tectonic movements.


Your forgetting a mach 1 pressure wave capable of scouring the surface of the earth.

A 6 mile wide meteor hit in the middle pacific would create a tsunami that would be measured in thousands of feet. Tectonic shifts would be measured in magnitudes greater than 10. The fallout zone would be the entire planet, meaning huge chunks of rock and mantle will be peppering the surface like shrapnel and lasting for weeks or longer.

You'd be half a planet away so you wouldn't be instantly incinerated by the initial impact. But you'd have more to worry about than just tectonic shifts and climate changes.
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I don't know if anyone has posted this before. Watch till the last second.

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You make do with what you have in an emergency.

Yeah, but at what cost? certainly here in the US, we have radiation suits better than that. All Japan would have to do, is ASK.

"Hey, ya'll got any nuclear emergencies going on right now? No? Cool...so can we borrow a few RADIATION SUITS FOR OUR BRAVE CITIZENS WHO ARE PERFORMING SUICIDE DUTY?"

Are they so proud, and trying to hide the truth so much, that they could not somehow get help from other countries to improve thier odds at fighting this disaster??
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Quoting aquak9:
As for the packing tape, it is likely there to keep the bottom of the suit from shifting and/or opening up avenues to exposure. The tape isn't there to create a seal by itself. (think about it - when you pack a box, and place tape over all the seams)

yeah, but jeffs...if this was USA, I don't think you would see workers with TAPE HOLDING THEIR ANTI-RADIATION SUITS TOGETHER

and actually those suits look pretty weak...


You have an entirely too high an opinion of the US, especially when it comes to emergency situations that deprive an area of basic necessities, create shortages of essential supplies, or go beyond the preparations made. Katrina was a good example of how even the mighty US can get kicked in the nuggets just as easily as any other country dealing with disasters.

You make do with what you have in an emergency.
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(gigglesnork)
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Post 360 on the flooding in the Midwest.

I suspect some of the reason you might not be seeing response is because it would take a short book to do it justice.

Please do not lump one area in with the rest and say it all applies. It does not.
I can only speak to conditions in ND as that is the only flood area I have had to pitch sand bags.

I live in Grand Forks. I was just out taking pictures of the Flood Way yesterday. In GF the dikes were build a long ways back from the river like they should be. I will put the pictures in my photo album (WU) some time.

In the last few years we have had flooding in areas that do not have dikes at all. Dikes/levees were never needed. Record snow fall with record rain fall in the spring is the main issue. I have had to sand bag in the summer (July) due to heavy rains from a Thunder Storm.

There may be dikes to protect farm land in ND, but I am not aware of any.

Some of the towns that have dikes do have them too close to the river. People being the way they are, money rule. A town I used to live in is working on dikes. If they move the dike away from the river enough to allow proper channel width, they eat up a bunch of the down town; tax base. So they are putting them on the banks like you complained about.

So, no one is totally innocent, but your brush was to wide.
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nea - LOL
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someone hand me some waders... it's gettin' thick in here....
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Quoting aspectre:
Ya might as well break out the surfboard now, NRAamy. Won't have time to haul it off the roof rack.

heh.

At +50m, I would have beachfront property.
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Quoting twincomanche:


It must be tough being that angry all of the time.

It's not anger: it's righteous indignation, and there are, unfortunately, a whole lot of things over which to be righteously indignant at the moment. Many people--at least those who wisely turn off Beck and Hannity and O'Reilly and Limbaugh--agree with me.

Having said that, I'll say this: it is tough being right all the time... ;-)
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cat5- ya got me laughing on that one!

oh, swoon swoon swoon swoon, I got some catching up to do!
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415.

I missed the anger part. I see a heaping helping of cynicism, sarcasm, and disillusionment, but no anger.
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Ya might as well break out the surfboard now, NRAamy. Won't have time to haul it off the roof rack.
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Quoting jeffs713:
Its fine that you hit the plus button (and I appreciate that). I honestly just expected someone to say *something* about the post, like adding more info, or putting a different spin on it. I made the post to create good conversation, which it didn't do right away.
I think a new conversation is great. Anytime man tries to tame nature, nature wins. Flooding can also be attributed to our paved cities which have massive runoff, which is directed into the storm drains, which are directed into.....the river?!? Anyway that's my opinion.
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Quoting Xyrus2000:


If a meteor of sufficient size hits (bigger than a couple of miles), it won't matter what you do. You'll die within the first few hours after impact, and depending on where you happen to be at the time and where the meteor hit it will probably be much faster.

If the meteor hits near 120E or so, North America would be impacted mostly by the climactic changes, not direct effects. For example, I live on the northern Gulf Coast, at an elevation of 156 feet, roughly 70 miles inland. In the gulf, with that large of an impact, if it lands in the Pacific, there is a CHANCE there would be a significant tsunami (100m+) in the GOM. There is a MUCH larger chance of the effects being primarily in the form of cloudcover, climate change, massive storms, and tectonic movements.
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Quoting aquak9:
Nuclear power experts cautioned against reading too much into the newest development, saying the burns suffered by the workers may not amount to much more than a sunburn.

Based on that comment, I can only assume that the "experts" of whom they speak are insiders employed by Big Nuclear. As such, what they say is likely pure obfuscatory BS. What about this story from Kyodo?

"Two of the three workers who were exposed to high-level radiation and sustained possible burns at a crisis-hit nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture have likely suffered ''internal exposure'' in which radioactive substances have entered their bodies, but they are not showing early symptoms and do not require treatment, a national radiation research center said Friday."

So would that be an internal sunburn, then? What does that look like? :-\

The plant is in ruins, and must be cleaned up at a cost of tens of billions of dollars. Fallout from the plant has been detected in North America and Europe. Hundreds of thousands have been forced to evacuate. Hundreds of thousands more have been asked to stay indoors. The ocean and land around Fukushima have been contaminated to the point that produce from the area, undamaged by the quake and tsunami, is nevertheless being destroyed. Water supplies are tainted; mothers' milk is tainted. Yet the pro-nuclear folks continue with their standard lines:

"It's no worse than a sunburn."

"You get more radiation from eating a banana."

"Even '10,000 above normal' means nothing. Normal is 1/10,000th of safe, so 10,000 times more than normal means safe. See?"

Rightttt.....
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Quoting Xyrus2000:


If a meteor of sufficient size hits (bigger than a couple of miles), it won't matter what you do. You'll die within the first few hours after impact, and depending on where you happen to be at the time and where the meteor hit it will probably be much faster.
           Might survive in a nuclear powered submarine for awhile longer.
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6.4 quake on 2011/03/25 & 11:36:25 epicentered at 38.763n141.942e at a depth of 39.2kilometres
177.3degrees(S) & 41miles from Otsuchi
149.9degrees(SE) & 24 miles from Ofunato
136.3degrees(SE) & 24miles from Rikuzentakata
113.0degrees(ESE) & 21miles from Kesennuma
77.5degrees(ENE) & 27miles from Minamisanriku

27.9degrees(NNE) & 105miles from FukushimaDaiichi
The lone red dot represents centralTokyo

The tsunami generated by the magnitude9.0quake came close to totally obliterating Minamisanriku, Kesennuma, Rikuzentakata, Ofunato, and Otsuchi.
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he's American, but his last name is Greek....he's young and has a super fake tan.... and the hair ofcourse.... like he put his finger into a socket...
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amy- I don't even know how to turn on the tv where I live...I guess that's why I grow a garden instead...
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Quoting kwgirl:
I hit the plus button on your post. Isn't that good enough? Or do you want a show of hands to see who agrees with you and who doesn't?
Its fine that you hit the plus button (and I appreciate that). I honestly just expected someone to say *something* about the post, like adding more info, or putting a different spin on it. I made the post to create good conversation, which it didn't do right away.
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Quoting jeffs713:

exactly. If a meteor hits, I'm not going to think if a tsunami is going to wash over my area.. I'm just going to get the bare minimum to survive long-term together, and hunker down.


If a meteor of sufficient size hits (bigger than a couple of miles), it won't matter what you do. You'll die within the first few hours after impact, and depending on where you happen to be at the time and where the meteor hit it will probably be much faster.
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Quoting hydrus:
That sounds like late spring weather for you. You might get some interesting weather from this...
That type of weather can actually happen in early April if nature allows it.That map there just looks blah!.
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Quoting NRAamy:
come on...am I the only one on here who watches the Ancient Aliens programs on the History Channel.... what's up with the Greek guy's hair?

I watch it some times, but I'm not remembering the Greek guy. I must now watch the show especially to check this guy out
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#371, The question is not when will climate change end ( I assume you mean the discussion), since climate is always changing. The question should be when will mankind end due to lack of will or knowledge to understand climate change and how mankind affects it.
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Quoting washingtonian115:
Ohhhhh.I just want it to be warm again.I like my highs in the low to mid 80's,and night time lows in the lower 60's.With low humidity of course.
That sounds like late spring weather for you. You might get some interesting weather from this...
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come on...am I the only one on here who watches the Ancient Aliens programs on the History Channel.... what's up with the Greek guy's hair?
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Quoting jeffs713:
I find it interesting that nobody has said anything about post# 360, and also that Amy, Nea, and I are basically the only ones posting for the last bit.
I hit the plus button on your post. Isn't that good enough? Or do you want a show of hands to see who agrees with you and who doesn't?
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thanks Paka....
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.