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 Skyepony:
Tampa~ There's one that is threatening homes that was started by a car crash. That's dry.

Fisky~ I like the current version. It's faster than the older version.
This is my main reason for liking the new version. However, I'm stuck with loading the classic version on my mini Acer.
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Quoting BahaHurican:
Think Broward lucked out in '04; northern Palm Beach got the goods but good. It was Wilma in '05 that swiped 'em....


I feel the Western Atlantic time is now coming. Look for the Bahamas and the Atlantic Coast to get hit hard this year. This might just be the year for that NY storm all have been talking for years.
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Quoting flsky:

No, I missed that. Definitely not good if it pans out. Did the Broward area get hit hard in 2004?
Think Broward lucked out in '04; northern Palm Beach got the goods but good. It was Wilma in '05 that swiped 'em....
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Quoting BahaHurican:
I was about to say, u and I will likely never see eye to eye on politics, but since that isn't why we come here in the first place, that doesn't really matter to me :o).

This blog always runs better when pple leave off the politics and religion. Unfortunately just about any discussion of wx-related topics [i.e. other than the actual wx itself] kinda lends itself to that devolution.... lol

Just don't let pple run u off when it's time for the season.


I will be here to put my 1 cent worth in........LOL...thanks!
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Quoting flsky:

MANTRA - ignore - ignore - ignore....



YES YES YES........your right! Poooooffff he goes!
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Quoting TampaSpin:


I hear ya.......:)
I was about to say, u and I will likely never see eye to eye on politics, but since that isn't why we come here in the first place, that doesn't really matter to me :o).

This blog always runs better when pple leave off the politics and religion. Unfortunately just about any discussion of wx-related topics [i.e. other than the actual wx itself] kinda lends itself to that devolution.... lol

Just don't let pple run u off when it's time for the season.
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Quoting BahaHurican:
I think we r on the same page with this. I'm not seeing more storms per say, but I think ACE for the basin is likely to be about the same or greater. Reason? Stronger, longer lasting storms. We had some CV beauties last year, but all the local stuff was wimpy or fizzled. Another reason I think ACE may be up a bit globally is a rebound to neutral means a busier EPac season.


No Question.....also the Western Pacific was also very quite ......i believe. Just what Japan does not need is a very active season.
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239. flsky
Quoting TampaSpin:


ON THE WRONG SIDE......ROFLMAO

MANTRA - ignore - ignore - ignore....
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Quoting TampaSpin:


Yep i agree. Some don't see a very active season number wise in the Atlantic Basin.....but, we might see some very lenghty and stronger storms this year. I really don't see much of a decrease coming over last year in named storms at this time. We might actually see even more named storms. Last year we did not get much home brewed stuff. Look for that to change also this year.
I think we r on the same page with this. I'm not seeing more storms per say, but I think ACE for the basin is likely to be about the same or greater. Reason? Stronger, longer lasting storms. We had some CV beauties last year, but all the local stuff was wimpy or fizzled. Another reason I think ACE may be up a bit globally is a rebound to neutral means a busier EPac season.
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Quoting TomTaylor:

Look, I don't mean to disturb the peace and harmony on here since I know these moments are sooo rare.

But when someone is going to make a post saying the world isn't warming or humans are not at all responsible, I expect to see proof. Evidence. Something to back up their claim.

Same goes for someone upset about being hassled for it.



So when I see tampaspin complaining this blog is biased and he can't post any thing on the wrong side of the gw issue, I have no sympathy for him.


ON THE WRONG SIDE......ROFLMAO
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235. Skyepony (Mod)
Tampa~ There's one that is threatening homes that was started by a car crash. That's dry.

Fisky~ I like the current version. It's faster than the older version.
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Quoting flsky:

Don't be defeated by this - just ignore it!

Look, I don't mean to disturb the peace and harmony on here since I know these moments are sooo rare.

But when someone is going to make a post saying the world isn't warming or humans are not at all responsible, I expect to see proof. Evidence. Something to back up their claim.

Same goes for someone upset about being hassled for it.



So when I see tampaspin complaining this blog is biased and he can't post any thing on the wrong side of the gw issue, I have no sympathy for him.
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233. flsky
Quoting Skyepony:
What's burning in FL map..

Thanks, skye, I'll bookmark this. It wasn't clear to me, though, what link to hit to see current fires.
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Quoting washingtonian115:
Ah yes! while your on I will tell you what I discoved.I noticed that where ever the first storm of the season makes landfall,down the road later in the season the same area almost gets hit.........The same thing con be said about Cuba/Haiti that season.Once Gustav mad landfall 3 other storms came along.So this season let's watch where the first storm/hurricane makes landfall.It could give us a signal for what's really to come later on down the road......
Actually that pattern was in place from before Fay. It seems that high got pretty set in place and lasted long enough to steer either 5 or 6 TCs along that general path, even including Ike which was originally forecast to move further north. But there is a lot of historical precedent for that. Once a high sets up in a location during the height of the season [thinking last week in JUL to last week in SEP] it can stay there steering TCs for 10, 20, even 30 days at a time...
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Quoting TampaSpin:


Dont you be drinking anything before bed. You will be peeing all nite! Where's your DEPENDS! Run to the Pharmacy if you don't have.....LMAO


Thank goodness Walgreens is only two block from my house. They are open 24 hours. (You twit) LOL
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 27210
Quoting Skyepony:
What's burning in FL map..


Thats a whole lot of burning....
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228. flsky
Quoting BahaHurican:
Agreed on the sorting out of the issues.... did u look at the link somebody posted earlier about probabilities? The BAhamas is in the 90 - 95 % range for a storm, 70 - 5 % for a hurricane, and near 50 % for a major. Broward is even higher; they place the probability of a TS or greater at 99% for Broward.... not liking the sound of that....

No, I missed that. Definitely not good if it pans out. Did the Broward area get hit hard in 2004?
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Quoting RastaSteve:


DAY 1 Monday afternoon and FL starts getting summertime storms with dewpoints in the low 70's and pwat of near 2".

http://www.nco.ncep.noaa.gov/pmb/nwprod/analysis/ namer/gfs/00/fp0_096.shtml



We will see, I would certainly love that, but its hard to say how it will turn out, high moisture and high dewpoints will probably verify, they are usually higher than forecast. The thing of question is will we have the right forcing mechanisms and other things needed for significant rain. Typically this time of year, at least one factor ends up greatly lacking which prevents significant rain. That is, unlike the wet season when typically all ingredients frequently favor heavy convective development. You need a lot more than just high moisture and high dewpoints for significant thunderstorm activity.
Member Since: August 21, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 8028
Quoting Grothar:


Thanks Rasman! Good images. I hope we get some rain soon. It has really been dry here. One of the geckos in my yard just put up a lemonade stand. Making a fortune I heard.


Dont you be drinking anything before bed. You will be peeing all nite! Where's your DEPENDS! Run to the Pharmacy if you don't have.....LMAO
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225. Skyepony (Mod)
What's burning in FL map..
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Well , I'm out...goodnight to all you old and young folks :) Sleep well~~~~~~~
Member Since: September 16, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1496
Quoting RastaSteve:


http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/predictions /threats/threats.php


Thanks Rasman! Good images. I hope we get some rain soon. It has really been dry here. One of the geckos in my yard just put up a lemonade stand. Making a fortune I heard.
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 27210
Quoting flsky:

My usual come-back to this kind of statement (or something that I think to myself) is you'll get here (there?) eventually....


This is true, when I'm old, I'll probably be getting cranky about how trusting young people are of artificial intelligence. Chances are me and all the other old people agreeing will be right too!
Member Since: August 21, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 8028
Quoting flsky:

Hi TS - I used to get frustrated, aggravated, baited, etc., etc., by the "2 or 3," but now I just hit the handy-dandy "red exclamation point" (that is, if the site is allowing me to do so) and rest easy. Man, I hope they get these technical issues figured out b4 the season starts. I really rely on this site for up-to-the-minute, accurate info - after all, I DO live in FL!
Agreed on the sorting out of the issues.... did u look at the link somebody posted earlier about probabilities? The BAhamas is in the 90 - 95 % range for a storm, 70 - 5 % for a hurricane, and near 50 % for a major. Broward is even higher; they place the probability of a TS or greater at 99% for Broward.... not liking the sound of that....
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Quoting EYEStoSEA:


Rub it in, rub it in..........lol



hahahaha
Member Since: August 21, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 8028
217. flsky
Quoting Grothar:


Are you calling the rest of us old, you little whipper-snapper? LOL

My usual come-back to this kind of statement (or something that I think to myself) is you'll get here (there?) eventually....
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Quoting flsky:

Does he do free consulting for extremely frustrated WU folks?
That I don't know.But he's calling me to get off of the computer.He thinks I love it more than him.Good night to ya!!.
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215. Skyepony (Mod)
Smells like swamp fire here..

I have had absolutely no problems. New WU, Firefox, newer version of Windows~ IE hates WU.

5 day ~5cm for FL peninsula.
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Quoting Jedkins01:
I like the updated version better, but maybe its cause I'm a young college folk and my brain is always being exposed to new technology and new education :)


Rub it in, rub it in..........lol
Member Since: September 16, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1496
Quoting Jedkins01:
I like the updated version better, but maybe its cause I'm a young college folk and my brain is always being exposed to new technology and new education :)


Are you calling the rest of us old, you little whipper-snapper? LOL
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 27210
I like the updated version better, but maybe its cause I'm a young college folk and my brain is always being exposed to new technology and new education :)
Member Since: August 21, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 8028
Quoting flsky:

Don't be defeated by this - just ignore it!


I hear ya.......:)
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Quoting Grothar:


Hey, fl. Do I think I need to upgrade???? By the way, anyone have maps of the rain we are supposed to get in Florida soon. I haven't seen any yet.




hahahahaha
Member Since: August 21, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 8028
208. flsky
Quoting BtnTx:
Apparently Weather Underground doesn't want us to use Microsoft software. However many of us have no choice because of where we work. The old web site was great. I now must use the classic.wunderground.com. Maybe Dr. Masters wants us all to use Ubantu or whatever it is called

I tried just using classic, but nothing was ever the same as it was before. Sorry to say, but I think WU has to reconsider their choice of programmers. They seem to be screwing everything up.
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Quoting BtnTx:
Nothing to discuss really other than the new blog format seems to have issues the former one did not. I don't think I will ever quit reading this blog as I was here before it started! classic site still works!


I'm using classic also....but don't think they will continue updating it in the future.....
Member Since: September 16, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1496
Quoting BahaHurican:
Hey, TS. I think the ATL was prolly the busiest basin last year. WPac had a near-record low level of activity. Even here with our 19 storms we didn't see huge ACE. It will certainly be interesting to see if the global activity rebounds or if we continue with the "quiet" trend. [I kinda expect a pick-up; I don't think we have many two-year long quiet periods in the historical record....]


Yep i agree. Some don't see a very active season number wise in the Atlantic Basin.....but, we might see some very lenghty and stronger storms this year. I really don't see much of a decrease coming over last year in named storms at this time. We might actually see even more named storms. Last year we did not get much home brewed stuff. Look for that to change also this year.
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Quoting flsky:

Does he do free consulting for extremely frustrated WU folks?


Hey, fl. Do I think I need to upgrade???? By the way, anyone have maps of the rain we are supposed to get in Florida soon. I haven't seen any yet.

Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 27210
204. BtnTx
Nothing to discuss really other than the new blog format seems to have issues the former one did not. I don't think I will ever quit reading this blog as I was here before it started! classic site still works!
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202. flsky
Quoting TampaSpin:


- button and ! button but, it does not do any good. There you all see as just a great example of a this blog that continues to be allowed.....see ya! LOL

Don't be defeated by this - just ignore it!
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Quoting flsky:

I agree, too, but I don't come on this expecting to debate political issues in the first place. I want to know about tropical weather!


Neither do I. Which is why I never engage in any of them. I just post my little weather images and move on.
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 27210
Quoting TampaSpin:



I know many think last year was busy......, but look at the Global ACE. We did not even come close to much of a peak. An upward ACE is coming over the next 2 years as you can see on this graphic. This year might be even more busy than last year, at least globally.
Hey, TS. I think the ATL was prolly the busiest basin last year. WPac had a near-record low level of activity. Even here with our 19 storms we didn't see huge ACE. It will certainly be interesting to see if the global activity rebounds or if we continue with the "quiet" trend. [I kinda expect a pick-up; I don't think we have many two-year long quiet periods in the historical record....]
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Quoting washingtonian115:
Ah yes! while your on I will tell you what I discoved.I noticed that where ever the first storm of the season makes landfall,down the road later in the season the same area almost gets hit.For exsample.Arlean(2005) made landfall on the the gulf coast.And what happened that season?.It's like Cindy,Dennis,katrina,and Wilma all followed in her foot steps.In 2008 the first storm to reach U.S shores was Dolly.And what happened then?.Later you had Edwuard,and Ike come to Texas.The same thing con be said about Cuba/Haiti that season.Once Gustav mad landfall 3 other storms came along.So this season let's watch where the first storm/hurricane makes landfall.It could give us a signal for what's really to come later on down the road......


Ah, that's an interesting observation. I hadn't noticed that. Thanks for sharing!
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198. flsky
Quoting BtnTx:
I guess I am ignored. Good night to all!

Not at all, what would you like to discuss (although, for some strange reason I have to be somewhere at 9:30 tomorrow morning and have to be getting to bed soon - but I'll be around for a few minutes).
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Quoting TomTaylor:
yea run and hide buddy

Unless of course you want to prove to me the earth isn't warming. Or that humans aren't partly responsible.

But OF COURSE, you can't. So go on your way to bed now.


It's no different then claiming the earth is the center of the universe. You have no proof, and all evidence suggests otherwise. And yet you wonder why we yell at you.

Wake up already


- button and ! button but, it does not do any good. There you all see as just a great example of what this blog continues to be allowed.....see ya! LOL
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196. BtnTx
I guess I am ignored. Good night to all!
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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.

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