ST. LOUIS — Despite the snow still covering the upper Midwest, National Weather Service experts are optimistic that come spring, flooding will be minimal in the nation's heartland.
Several Midwestern branch offices of the National Weather Service released spring flood outlook reports late Thursday. None project significant flooding — even the risk of minor flooding is below normal in many places.
That's a bit of a surprise considering how snowy the winter has been. Parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa still have up to 3 feet of snow on the ground.
The snowfall has been offset by unusually low river levels and drought, National Weather Service hydrologist Mark Fuchs in suburban St. Louis said. He said that when the snow melts, much of it is expected to go into the parched ground.
"There is a fair amount of snow up north, but there is also a drought up north," Fuchs said Friday. "That's the one thing that's going to mitigate the flood potential."
Long-term rainfall projections call for around average precipitation in the spring. Fuchs said if that's accurate, minor flooding could be expected in parts of the Mississippi River from southern Iowa to the Missouri River confluence near St. Louis. Mississippi River tributaries could also see mostly minor flooding.
Some rivers in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana are already out of their banks, though the flooding is expected to be minor and brief.
This week's unusually warm temperatures caused significant snow melt in northern Missouri. Combined with up to an inch of rain in the middle of the week, a few rivers spilled over their banks. Ewing, a tiny community about 120 miles north of St. Louis, was hardest hit. Damage was mostly limited to farmland and county roads.
Spring flood predictions for the region south of St. Louis are difficult to project because the National Weather Service hasn't yet developing flood modeling for the Missouri River, which plays such an important role in Mississippi River depths below the confluence.
The spring outlook from the weather service's Sioux Falls, S.D., office calls for a lower than normal chance of flooding over much of the Dakotas and into Nebraska. The Des Moines, Iowa, office projects near-normal flood risks over most of Iowa, saying that below-normal soil moisture offsets deep frost that often raises flood concern.
The Rock Island, Ill., weather service office projects near-normal flood risk on the Mississippi River in most of Iowa and Illinois, but a slightly elevated risk from Dubuque, Iowa, south to the far northeastern Missouri.
Fuchs cautioned that a strong and extended storm or two could wipe out all the hopeful predictions.
"The bottom line is how much rain do we get," he said.