Midwest and Northeast on Alert: As Snow Melts, Flooding and Ice Jams Are Possible

By Alan Raymond
Published: February 21, 2014

It’s been a cold and snowy winter for the Midwest and Northeast. Some locations like New York, Chicago and Philadelphia are having winters that rank in the top five snowiest since record keeping began. That snow will eventually melt, releasing its locked up water - and it might happen sooner than you think.


Current Temperatures

Current Temperatures

Current Temperatures

Current Temperatures

Current Snow Depth

Current Snow Depth

Current Snow Depth

Current Snow Depth

(VIDEO: Let it Rain, But Not Too Much)

With warming temperatures expected through the end of the week, snow will begin melting and ice could begin to break up on frozen rivers. What does that mean? Flooding from ice jams and melting snow is a distinct possibility.

Adding insult to injury, another powerful storm will bring heavy rain which could accelerate snowmelt, potentially enhancing flooding in some locations.

Here’s what you need to know:

Throughout the first half of this week, warmer temperatures have been streaming northward and the mild weather pushed all the way into the Ohio Valley coastal Northeast, which saw thermometers approaching the 50 degree mark on Thursday.  

(MORE: Prepare for Floods Now)

When you couple the effect of warm temperatures, melting snow and a ground that’s nearly impermeable because it’s frozen, you have a recipe for flash flooding.

This week, a potent low pressure system is forecast to bring heavy rain to parts of the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes, which will further exacerbate flooding concerns. The low is expected move through on Thursday before pushing into the Northeast on Friday. Rainfall amounts of 1 to 2 inches are possible within the next few days. Any rain that falls will only accelerate snowmelt, adding to the runoff from the rain.


Friday's Forecast

Friday's Forecast

Friday's Forecast

Friday's Forecast

Rainfall Forecast

Rainfall Forecast

Rainfall Forecast

Rainfall Forecast

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the amount of snowpack that's still on the ground throughout the Midwest and most of the Northeast contains the equivalent of another two to six inches of liquid water.

Add the water from melting snow to the impending heavy rain, and you’ve got a lot of water that could accumulate all at once.

(MORE: Winter Storm Seneca)

Another concern will be ice jams on rivers. The warm temperatures and rainfall will cause ice sheets on the river to breakup and be carried downstream. Often, these pieces of ice will come together in a narrower part of the river and get stuck.

Water backs up behind the ice jam, causing the river to overflow its banks and flood surrounding areas.

Given the potential for flooding, some states in the Great Lakes region and the Midwest are currently under flood watches.

(ALERTS: Flood watches, warnings (in blue))

Bottom line: Flooding will be a serious concern through the end of the week. If you come upon a swollen river or creek, don’t drive through it. Two feet of water can sweep an SUV downstream.

(FORECAST: Indianapolis | Cincinnati | Cleveland | Buffalo)

MORE: 2013's Colorado Flooding

An M-923 U.S. military logistical transportation vehicle lies on its side in a ditch in Longmont after being washed away by floodwaters as local residents were cleaning up in the wake of heavy flooding on Sept. 16, 2013, in Longmont, Colo. (Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)

Featured Blogs

Potentially Historic Blizzard Taking Aim on New England

By Dr. Jeff Masters
January 25, 2015

The densely populated area from New York City to Boston could experience one of its ten biggest snowstorms on record early this week, as a textbook nor’easter takes shape over the next 48 hours.

The RRR ‘Ridiculously Resilient Ridge’ Returns to California

By Christopher C. Burt
January 9, 2015

After a very wet first half of December hopes were high that the beginning to the end of California’s years-long drought might finally be at hand. However, virtually no rainfall has fallen across the state since December 18th and none is forecast until at least January 18th. Yet again, a month-long mid-winter dry spell has befallen the state.

Meteorological images of the year - 2014

By Stu Ostro
December 30, 2014

My 9th annual edition.

Live Blog: Tracking Hurricane Arthur as it Approaches North Carolina Coast

By Shaun Tanner
July 3, 2014

This is a live blog set up to provide the latest coverage on Hurricane Arthur as it threatens the North Carolina Coast. Check back often to see what the latest is with Arthur. The most recent updates are at the top.

2013-14 - An Interesting Winter From A to Z

By Tom Niziol
May 15, 2014

It was a very interesting winter across a good part of the nation from the Rockies through the Plains to the Northeast. Let's break down the most significant winter storms on a month by month basis.

What the 5th IPCC Assessment Doesn't Include

By Angela Fritz
September 27, 2013

Melting permafrost has the potential to release an additional 1.5 trillion tons of carbon into the atmosphere, and could increase our global average temperature by 1.5°F in addition to our day-to-day human emissions. However, this effect is not included in the IPCC report issued Friday morning, which means the estimates of how Earth's climate will change are likely on the conservative side.