Most rivers are dropping, but the risk of flooding is far from over.
“We can’t pretend this is over,” said David Pearson, a National Weather Service hydrologist who sounded the alarm about the potential for historic flooding in Nebraska and Iowa several days before it hit. “It’s going to be a long time before we see our rivers get back to normal.”
On Thursday, the National Weather Service announced that nearly two-thirds of the lower 48 states face a higher than normal risk of flooding, for a variety of reasons including the potential of higher than normal spring rains.
So if you’re on the fence about buying flood insurance, now is the time to do it, he said. There remains enough of a long-term risk that homeowners could still benefit despite the usual 30-day delay in effective date.
“Absolutely,” Pearson said. “For most people it doesn’t cost a lot, especially when compared to the out-of-pocket cost of repairing.”
A mixture of threats are ahead:
» Rain this weekend poses a short-term risk of renewed flooding across northern Nebraska and the Niobrara River Valley.
» Spring rains pose an ongoing risk across Nebraska, Iowa and other water-logged central U.S. states.
» Snowpack along the Big Sioux and James Rivers could send pulses of floodwater down the Missouri River in the weeks ahead.
» Snowpack in the Rocky Mountains will wash down the Platte River at some point in the next month or so.
Forecasts for this weekend are calling for ¼-inch to an inch of rain Friday into Saturday across portions of Nebraska. The latest storm track would deliver the heaviest rains across central and northern Nebraska. The system is too far away to be certain, so people should monitor forecasts.
“The flood risk is going to increase this weekend,” Cliff Cole, a meteorologist with the weather service office in North Platte said of northern Nebraska and the Panhandle. Something to hope for is that warmer weather in the days ahead thaws the ground enough in those areas that it can absorb runoff.
Even before this major flooding hit, Nebraska and Iowa were at a higher-than-usual risk of spring flooding because of saturated soils and high stream levels.
The arrival of spring Wednesday increases that because of the heavier rains and thunderstorms headed this way, said Ken Dewey, an applied climatologist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“It’s a big deal,” Dewey said of the potent mix of a water-logged watershed and the arrival of spring.
Missouri River snowpack
The snowmelt that will affect the Missouri is coming mostly from tributaries that feed into the river below Gavins Point Dam — the Big Sioux and James Rivers, for example. While the data aren’t easily available, Pearson said it’s his hunch that there’s more than the average amount of water in that Plains snow.
The Missouri River will continue dropping over the next few days before turning around, probably at the end of March, and rising with snowmelt, Pearson said. At some point, he said, the Missouri River most likely will be back to flood stage.
“We don’t have enough time to get the (Missouri) river back to normal in between the record, historic event that we’re coming out of and the beginning of the Plains snowmelt,” he said.
What’s not an immediate threat is the larger geographic area of Plains and mountain snowpack that is held back by the five massive dams above Gavins Point Dam. The dam system has about 96 percent of the normal space available to store runoff, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the dams.
Platte River snowpack
Snowmelt flowing into the Platte River is a concern, but that is still some time away, said Jerilyn Billings Wright, a meteorologist with the weather service in Hastings.
In the meantime, people need to be careful, Cole said, especially when driving.
“One thing we know is our infrastructure, our road system, has been weakened by the previous flood,” Cole said. “We don’t know if it’s to the point where what’s normally a minor flood situation is going to cause significant damage to a weakened structure. Be very careful driving.”
The Elkhorn River at the Maple Street bridge is shown under water Monday March 18, 2019.
Floodwaters from the Elkhorn River have gone down and now expose a heavily damaged West Dodge Road.
Floodwaters from the Elkhorn River have started to recede, exposing a heavily damaged West Dodge Road.
The eastbound lanes of West Dodge Road just west of 228th Street show the damage done after floodwaters went down Monday.
A cow makes its way through floodwaters near Columbus, Nebraska, on Friday.
A shell of the Spencer dam is left on the Niobrara River.
Floodwaters engulf a farm near Missouri Valley on Friday.
Floodwaters flow over a railroad bridge near Arlington, Nebraska, on Friday.
Floodwaters make their way into North Bend, Nebraska, on Friday.
The Elkhorn River encroaches on Waterloo on Sunday.
A portion of Highway 92 has been destroyed by floodwaters in western Douglas County.
The Elkhorn River has covered several parts of western Douglas County.
A levee breach is shown on the Platte River near Ashland on Sunday.
Valley is shown inundated by floodwaters on Sunday.
An aerial view of Missouri Valley near the Interstate 29 exit on March 15.
An aerial view of Missouri Valley as floodwaters continue to impact the area on Friday.
A house is surrounded by floodwaters near Waterloo, Nebraska, on Friday.
Floodwaters envelop King Lake, Nebraska, on Friday.
Floodwaters swallow the town of Rogers, Nebraska, on Friday.
Water recedes in the town of Niobrara Neb. The highway showing is Hwy 12 and Hwy 14 Junction.
The Morman bridge on Highway 12 between Niobrara and Niobrara State Park was wiped out by a flood.
A train is stopped on flooded tracks next to the Platte River near Cedar Creek, Nebraska, on Friday.
Highway 75's northbound lane is closed because of flooding near Merritt's Beach RV Park on Friday.
A Nebraska National Guard helicopter flies over areas flooded by the Platte River near Columbus, Nebraska, on Friday.
Highway 81 covered in floodwaters south of Columbus, Nebraska, on Friday.
A Nebraska National Guard helicopter flies over flooded Waterloo on Friday.
Cars drive drive across a flooded Platte River on Highway 50 just north of Louisville.
Water covers a road near Valley, Nebraska.
A westward, aerial view of a flooded Tom Hanafan River's Edge Park on Friday.
An aerial view of Missouri Valley, Iowa, as floodwaters continue to impact the area on Friday.
The National Weather Service in Valley, Nebraska was evacuated due to flooding.
A truck drives through a flooded road near the Platte River.
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