Luck of the Irish Today/New Flood Outlook

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! What an amazing day it is with temperatures in the 60s thanks to strong southwest winds. This makes three years in a row with great weather on St. Pat’s day. I hope everyone was able to enjoy it. Can’t rule out a sprinkle this evening, but should not be too big of a deal.

The new spring flood outlook came out today. Not good news for the upper midwest. Take a look at the forecast.

Note that all of Wisconsin has an above average chance of flooding. This should not come as a surprise with the snowpack that much of the state had. The western part of the state has the best chance of flooding, especially along the Mississippi River.

Here is what the National Weather Service says about our area:

Above Average and High Flood Risk Areas

North Central U.S. and Upper Mississippi River

Heavy late summer and autumn precipitation (twice the normal amount since October in parts of North Dakota and Minnesota) had left soils saturated and streams running high before the winter freeze-up.  NWS models show this year’s snowpack contains a water content ranked among the highest of the last 60 years.  The combination put a large portion of the North Central United States at risk of moderate to major flooding this spring, extending from northeastern Montana through western Wisconsin and along the Mississippi River south to St. Louis.

Information provided by NOAA on March 3, 2011 indicated Fargo, N.D. has a near 95 percent chance of exceeding major flood stage of 30 feet. At a stage of 30 feet, portions of downtown Fargo begin flooding and temporary dike construction is necessary. Approximately a 35 percent chance exists of reaching or exceeding the 40.8 foot record set in 2009. Grand Forks, N.D. has about a 95 percent chance of exceeding major flood stage of 46 feet. A series of storm systems are forecast to move across the region during the next two weeks, which could bring additional snow or rain on top of the remaining snowpack. These systems may cause substantial runoff and the beginning of minor flooding in the southern headwater portion of the Red River of the North, eventually leading to major flooding sometime from the last week of March through early April.

There is approximately a 25 percent chance of Devils Lake, ND exceeding 1,455 feet, which could partially inundate portions of the town of Minnewauken, including critical infrastructure and roads across the lake, emergency service routes and possibly a small section of the Amtrak train line.

There is potential for moderate to major flooding on the Milk River and its tributaries in northeastern Montana.  The Milk River at Tampico (near Glasgow Montana) has about a 95 percent chance of exceeding the major flood stage of 27 feet.  Some minor ice jam flooding is already occurring in Montana; additional major flooding resulting is expected this spring. 

The James River at Huron, SD has about a 95 percent chance of exceeding major flood stage of 15 feet and a 25 percent chance of exceeding the record 21.2 foot level set in 1997. The Big Sioux River at Brookings, S.D., has a greater than 95 percent chance of exceeding major flood stage of 12 feet and about a 50 percent chance of exceeding the 14.77-foot record set in 1969. Warm temperatures in the forecast this week could cause much of the snowpack to melt across South Dakota, setting off moderate to major flooding in eastern South Dakota next week.

The Mississippi River is likely to see major flooding beginning in late March from its headwaters near St. Paul, Minnesota, downstream to St. Louis. St. Paul, MN has about a 95 percent chance of exceeding major flood stage of 17 feet, where secondary flood walls are deployed to protect the St. Paul Airport. Further downstream, there is a 75% chance (3 out of 4 chance) for major flooding on the Upper Mississippi River from Winona, MN, to Keokuk, IA.   Most points from south of  Keokuk to Winfield, MO (about 60 river miles upstream of St. Louis) have greater than a 50% chance of major flooding.  Warm temperatures in the forecast this week could cause much of the snowpack to melt across southern Minnesota. Minor flooding could begin this week on the Mississippi River and its tributaries over southeastern Minnesota and southwestern Wisconsin, leading to moderate to major flooding by early April.

The Mississippi River has a 95% chance of exceeding major flood stage. Rivers are already above flood stage and will get worse as the spring rains arrive.

Now, on to our forecast for next week. We have been talking about the return of the “signature storm” for quite some time. After looking at the models again today, I don’t think they have a firm grip at what is likely to happen in the middle of next week. The GFS and European model have a weaker storm hitting us Tuesday and Wednesday, but this seems way too washed out.

I am not putting too much credence into the models yet. What I find interesting is that the GFS had a much stronger low forecast a few days ago. I still believe we will have a strong storm in the middle of the week. It will likely start as rain, but don’t be surprised by rain changing to snow on Wednesday.

Have a safe St. Patrick’s Day! It is always a day I look forward to because I started at Channel 12 14 years ago today. Slainte.



20 Responses

  1. Thursday, March 17, 2011

    Hi Mark & Jeremy,

    First of all, Happy St. Pat’s Day to you!
    Just want you to know that even though I haven’t posted anything of late, I am still following along with the blog. Interesting stuff!

    Tony (Pl. Prairie)

    • No problem, Tony. We know we’ll here from you again when it snows.


  2. Hi, Mark —

    Happy 14TH Anniversary at WISN 12. Keep up the good work and I hope you are with us for a long time to come.

    Weather FYI — we had 63 degrees here in Reeseville yesterday {Wed}. We got to open some windows and “change the air” in the house and now it smells all “springy.” Today has stayed in the mid to upper 50’s, probably due to the cloud cover that seems to have thickened all day. It seems like I can “smell rain” in the air.

    As always, will stay tuned to TV and blog. {Is there anyone else worth watching/reading???} 🙂


    • Thanks, Don,

      What a great couple of days!!


  3. Hey Mark,

    Do you agree that while the precipitation is lacking on the GFS, the placement of the low is starting to get more into place? I might be wrong, but it seems like the track more accurately resembles the track it took on February 1st – at least more than how it looked yesterday.

    Dan K

    • If I remember right though this far out didn’t the temp forecast hold? I have been watching that 540 line more then the moisture so far and it looks like whatever that maybe will fall mostly as rain.

      • I think you may be right…. the whole time, the rain/snow line was right around Indianapolis, right?

    • Dan,

      I’m also looking for a bit of a seasonal shift to the low. Good point.


  4. These models have had no success holding a track all winter and I would still expect notable changes. Whether than means all rain or more snow is anybody’s guess, but the current track is a good indication of what probably won’t happen when it’s all said in done.

    • Do you think La Nina has something to do with them being so bad this year? I wish I could compare it to a previous year, but this is the first year I’ve really looked at the forecast models much.


      • I followed the models through most of the previous winter’s storms and they generally performed better. There were actually a couple of storms that held their tracks from about five or six days out. This year, I don’t think that has happened once.

      • Dan,

        La Nina is just one piece of the puzzle. I think too many meteorologists get caught up in El Nino and La Nina and ignore the other oscillations. If one oscillation is much more positive or negative that can have a huge impact on our overall weather patterns. Good question.

    • Daniel,

      I am also expecting more changes. I agree that the current track is most likely not to be the eventual track.


  5. The only good thing about some snow accumulation next week is that it is getting near the end of March and it won’t stick around for weeks after. Still looking forward to those 70’s the first week or so in April!

    • That is true!

      By the way, does anyone have any kind of radar loop from the February 1st blizzard??

      Dan K

      • Dan K, I do. See the text Feb 1-2 that is linked in the first paragraph.


    • Even that foot of snow on the first day of spring 3 years ago had basically melted off within a week, so yeah, it doesn’t stick around for long this time of year.

  6. Here’s a NAM archive of the blizzard.

    So based on the LRC, we’re expecting next week’s system to look something like that, correct?

    • Dan K, my LRC guts are telling me that this storms track will not be as far south as the bad boy from Feb, but that my guts talking, I don’t know much about forecasting weather in general besides what the models show…

      • Many thanks for the thoughts and the link, Josh! I do have one question though… what’s the deal with the discrepancy between the Oct. 26-27th storm and the December 10th-13th storm? Isn’t that around 46 or 47 days apart, instead of the expected 50-52 days that it’s been between the December and February storm? I guess it can’t always be accurate to the day, huh? Or am I just counting wrong? 😀

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