More than a third of the U.S. faces historic, possibly deadly flooding this spring

Published 23 March 2010

Forecasters say wet winter, El Nino could cause major flooding; Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA): “We are looking at potentially historic flooding”

More than a third of the United States faces a high risk of flooding this spring, and Midwesterners may get the brunt of it, according to government forecasters. Heavy rains last fall, thaw from an unusually wet winter, and a potentially wet spring due to El Nino could produce record flooding in some areas, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced last week.

We are looking at potentially historic flooding,” said NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco. “It’s a terrible case of déjà vu, but this time the flooding will likely be more widespread,” she said, referring to the record floods of 2009 in Fargo, North Dakota’s Red River valley.

ABC News reports that the upper Midwest, including the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Iowa, has the highest risk for flooding. Residents in Fargo, North Dakota, and Moorhead, Minnesota, are sandbagging homes and reinforcing dikes and levees as the Red River continues to rise. It was forecast to crest this weekend about twenty feet above flood stage. The river crested at twenty-two feet above flood stage in 2009, setting an all-time record, according to NOAA.

Flood risk is also above-average throughout much of the Mid-Atlantic, south, and the east coast, including the Mississippi River and Ohio River basins.

A combination of factors contribute to this year’s higher-than-average flood risks, says Scott Dummer, a hydrologist at NOAA’s North Central River Forecast Center. “It’s a multi-year problem,” says Dummer. “We’ve been in an extreme wet pattern since this fall.”

The wet fall weather saturated the ground, limiting drainage just as winter snows began to fall, says Dummer. A barrage of storms dumped record snows across the Mid-Atlantic and east coast this winter, and December precipitation was four times the average in the Midwest, says NOAA.

The East coast had its share of precipitation-makers, lots of big storms this winter,” says Dummer. “And throughout the country, we had heavy, wet snow that contained a lot more water.”

That heavy snow has given way to unusually warm spring in some areas, particularly the upper Midwest, accelerating spring thaws and causing rivers to surge and flood.

With rivers and streams beginning the spring thaw season at high levels, combined with a significant amount of water held in the snow pack, conditions are ripe for flooding this Spring,” NOAA reported in its assessment.

Adding to the water woes, forecasters predict El-Nino will bring “wetter than average conditions in coastal sections of the southeast,” increasing flood risks in states like Louisiana, Mississippi, and parts of Florida and Georgia.


Flooding is the deadliest weather hazard, claiming about 100 lives each year, according to NOAA.