NOAA Says US Should Brace For Historic, Widespread Flooding

March 21, 2019 by Dan McCue
This map depicts the locations where there is a greater than 50-percent chance of major, moderate or minor flooding during March through May, 2019. (NOAA)

Nearly two-thirds of the lower 48 states face the prospect of unprecedented major flooding over the next several weeks, U.S. weather officials said Thursday.

The dire forecast is the focal point of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s latest spring weather outlook.

It says 25 states could see major or moderate flooding through May, and that the majority of the country is expected to experience above-average rainfall during the period, increasing the flood risk.

Record winter precipitation across a large swath of the country has set the stage for the elevated flood risk.

Major flooding is now occurring in Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and other states in the upper Mississippi and Missouri River basins.

This early flooding was caused by rapid snow melt combined with heavy spring rain and late season snowfall in areas where soil moisture is high. In some areas, ice jams are exacerbating the flooding, NOAA said.

Ed Clark, director of NOAA’s National Water Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, said the flooding that’s already occurring will only become more dire over time, and may be exacerbated in the coming weeks as the water flows downstream.

“This is shaping up to be a potentially unprecedented flood season, with more than 200 million people at risk for flooding in their communities,” Clark said.

Additional spring rain and melting snow will prolong and expand flooding, especially in the central and southern United States. As this excess water flows downstream through the river basins, the flood threat will become worse and geographically more widespread.

Much of the U.S. east of the Mississippi River and portions of California and Nevada are at risk for minor flooding, the NOAA report said.

While much of the country will be dealing with rain and floods, scattered areas of the Southwest, Southeast and Pacific Northwest are abnormally dry.

Currently, the worst drought conditions in the U.S. are in northern New Mexico, the report said. Drought will also persist through spring in southern Alaska and Oregon, and may develop in Hawaii.

The outlook closes with a look at potential springtime temperatures.

NOAA is forecasting warmer-than-average temperatures to extend from the Pacific Northwest to the Central Rockies, and from southern Texas, northward through the Great Lakes and eastward to encompass the entire East Coast.

The greatest chance for above-average temperatures exist in Alaska, the Northeast and mid-Atlantic. The interior of the U.S. from the Dakotas southward to northern Texas are favored to have below-average temperatures this spring, report said.

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