CHANHASSEN, Minn. — March technically marks the beginning of meteorological spring, but in Minnesota, that simply means that each inevitable snowfall brings added concern.
"With this much fuel out there, it won't take much for us to reach those flood levels," said Craig Schmidt, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service Twin Cities.
As the person responsible for a series of Spring Flood Outlooks this time of year, it is Schmidt's job to think of snow - and snowpack - in terms of flood fuel.
His latest outlook, released on Thursday, puts the chances of Spring flooding "well above normal."
Schmidt: "Our probabilities for seeing moderate or major flooding have increased. The highest chances of reaching major flood stage are on the Mississippi, the mainstem Mississippi from St. Paul downstream, and that's where you get all the different river systems coming together."
But whether or not probability becomes reality, still depends a lot on the weather to come.
That's why the latest outlook will no longer be the last of the season.
Schmidt: "This is usually our third and final flood outlook of the season, but given the conditions that we're seeing, we're going to go ahead and do another one in two weeks, on March 23rd."
Erdahl: "I'm guessing you're talking about the snow we're standing in."
Schmidt: "Yeah, exactly, what we're looking at right now. It just continues. For the last two weeks, we've continued to add more snow to the snowpack, we added a little bit of rain in there too. So we now have a good three, four, five inches of water in that snow pack which is well above normal for early March. It's going to have to go somewhere once we start warming up."
Erdahl: "Meteorologists will try to tell you that winter is over, but do we have to just put our seatbelts on and just buckle up for the weeks to come?"
Schmidt: "Yeah, we kind of do. It looks like we're going to stay fairly below normal for temperatures throughout most of March it looks like, so it's going to allow this snow to stay with us for a while."
That's not necessarily bad news, especially for flood risk. The region has already experienced the wettest winter according to modern records, which has helped wipe out many areas experiencing severe drought. And because that record precipitation has not coincided with record cold, Schmidt says there is still hope for avoiding the worst spring has to offer.
Schmidt: "The soil did not freeze really deep, so that's probably the one thing that's going to help us a lot. If we could get a nice, orderly melt, if we could get temperatures in the 40's during the day and drop down near freezing at night, and have it come off just a little bit at a time, that would be perfect."
Erdahl: "Orderly does not seem like it fits the bill this winter, but maybe this spring?"
Schmidt: "Yeah, with any luck, I hope so."
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