Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Here comes the flooding...

More than a third of the contiguous USA has a higher-than-average risk of flooding in the coming months, and residents in the Midwest are likely to see the worst of it, government forecasters warned Tuesday.

Devastating and potentially deadly floods are forecast across much of the central and eastern USA over the next two months, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's spring flood outlook.

"We are looking at potentially historic flooding," NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco said.

The most significant threat is forecast for the Dakotas,Minnesota and Iowa, including along the Red River Valley. Crests there this week and into next week could approach the record levels set just last year.

"This is the first time in recorded history that we've had significant flood events back-to-back," said Scott Dummer, a hydrologist with the North Central River Forecast Center in Minneapolis. Records along the Red River go back 110 years, he said.

In Fargo, N.D., and neighboring Moorhead, Minn., the Red River is forecast to crest Saturday about 20 feet above flood stage. Last March, the river crested about 22 feet above flood stage in Fargo, an all-time record crest, the National Weather Service said.

The flooding has already started across parts of the Dakotas, including near Sioux Falls, S.D.

"I would call it one of the worst floods we've ever had, in my memory," said Dave Smit, 61, who has a home in Hurley, S.D., and a farm in the Davis area.

Mike Gillispie, a weather service hydrologist in Sioux Falls, said that barring any widespread rain, the worst of the flooding there should be over by the weekend.

Very wet soil and enhanced stream flows in the fall –– coupled with extreme amounts of rain and heavy, wet snow in the fall and winter –– produced the flooding risk in the Midwest, the weather service said.

Parts of the eastern and southern USA could also see significant flooding, mainly because of the effects of El Niño, a periodic warming of the Pacific Ocean that causes heavy precipitation across the southern tier of the USA.

Over the past six months, parts of the country received twice as much rain and snow as the average, according to the weather service.

"In the South and East ... flooding is more of a possibility than a certainty," weather service Director Jack Hayes said.
Flooding remains the deadliest severe weather hazard in the USA, killing an average of 93 people a year, according to the weather service.

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