, March 20, 2008 (ENS) - Major floods across the central United States this week are a preview of the spring seasonal outlook, according to the National Weather Service. This week, more than 250 communities in a dozen states are experiencing flood conditions.
Several factors will contribute to above-average likelihood of flooding, including record rainfall in some states and snow packs, which are melting and causing rivers and streams to crest over their banks.
Cars underwater in Orleans, Indiana. (Photo by Cindy Seigle)
After massive rains from Texas to Ohio over the past couple of days - more than a foot in parts of Arkansas, Missouri, and Illinois - many rivers are flooding, with some streams and rivers heading toward record crests.
A flood warning is currently in effect along the Mississippi River for parts of Illinois, Missouri and Kentucky.
The Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau is still expected to crest at 44.5 feet Sunday despite levels being lower than expected north of the region. Flood stage is 32 feet. In Cape Girardeau, crews are racing to close the big steel flood gates that safeguard the town from the rising river.
Residents are packing up and moving to higher ground, a Cape Girardeau nursing home has been evacuated, and the American Red Cross has opened five shelters for flood victims. Many highways are closed, gravel county roads are scoured into huge potholes, and many small bridges have been destroyed.
Missouri Governor Matt Blunt thanked President George W. Bush for his quick approval of expedited federal disaster assistance for 70 Missouri counties and the city of St. Louis as a result of flooding and severe weather across the entire central and southern parts of Missouri.
The Meramec River floods a St. Louis road. (Photo by Wendy Hehn)
"I appreciate the President's quick approval of my request for federal assistance," the governor said. "Our emergency responders have acted heroically in their efforts to assist the flood victims. This federal assistance will be very helpful in addition to the many state actions we have taken this week to assist Missourians impacted by this devastating flooding."
Widespread flooding in Arkansas has washed out some highways and led to evacuations in some areas, said a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management.
Some residents of southern Illinois had to evacuate. In Marion, Illinois, firefighters used their own fishing boats to rescue residents.
Across the entire flood zone, 13 people have died this week.
National Weather Service forecasters warned of the potential for the current major flood event a week in advance and began working with emergency managers to prepare local communities for the impending danger.
"We expect rains and melting snow to bring more flooding this spring," said Vickie Nadolski, deputy director of the National Weather Service, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA.
"Americans should be on high alert to flood conditions in your communities," said Nadolski. "Arm yourselves with information about how to stay safe during a flood and do not attempt to drive on flooded roadways - remember to always turn around, don't drown."
Nadolski called on local emergency management officials to continue preparations for a wet spring and focus on public education to ensure heightened awareness of the potential for dangerous local conditions.
Above-normal flood potential is evident in much of the Mississippi River basin, the Ohio River basin, the lower Missouri River basin, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, most of New York, all of New England, and portions of the West, including Colorado and Idaho.
Floodwaters at Poplar Bluff, Missouri (Photo by James Ramsey)
Heavy winter snow combined with recent rain indicates parts of Wisconsin and Illinois should see minor to moderate flooding, with as much as a 20 to 30 percent chance of major flooding on some rivers in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois.
Current snow depth in some areas of upstate New York and New England is more than a foot greater than usual for this time of the year, which increases the potential for flooding in the Connecticut River Valley.
Locations in the mountains of Colorado and Idaho have 150 to 200 percent of average water contained in snowpack leading to a higher than normal flood potential.
Snowfall has been normal or above normal across most of the West this winter, however, preexisting dryness in many areas will prevent most flooding in this region, according to the National Weather Service. Runoff from snow pack is expected to improve stream flows compared to last year for the West.
The current heavy rains have been good for parched areas of the Southeast, caught in the grip of record drought for several years.
Although some reservoirs are unlikely to recover before summer, the drought outlook indicates continued general improvement in the region. On the U.S. Drought Monitor, extreme drought coverage dropped from nearly 50 percent in mid-December to less than 20 percent in the Southeast for March.
Overall, the Southeast had near-average rainfall during the winter with some areas wetter than average. Nevertheless, lingering water supply concerns and water restrictions continue in parts of the region.
Drought across the West is not forecast to ease off. "We expect drought to continue in parts of the southern Plains despite some recent heavy rain," the National Weather Service said.
Parts of Texas received less than 25 percent of normal rainfall in the winter, leading 165 counties to enact burn bans by mid-March. Seasonal forecasts for warmth and dryness suggest drought will expand northward and westward this spring.
During the spring season, weather can change quickly from drought to flooding to severe weather, including outbreaks of tornadoes, said the weather service.
People can stay abreast of day-to-day weather fluctuations, as well as lifesaving advisories, watches and warnings, by purchasing a NOAA Weather Radio All-Hazards receiver and visiting http://www.weather.gov.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.
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