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Spring Flood Outlook: Winter's Deep Freeze Leaves Parts of US Vulnerable

Despite the official changing of the seasons, the impacts of this year's harsh winter will linger throughout the spring months and influence this year's spring flooding potential.

Breaking records for months on end, the unusually cold and snowy winter has brought forth a deep layer of frozen ground across much of the nation. In addition to the freeze, an abnormally high level of water is currently present in the snowpack. Combined both of these factors make this year's spring flood potential extremely dependent on the rate of snowmelt and amount of rain in the months to come.

Overall, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, predicts that there will be no extensive areas in danger of exceeding major flooding; however, significant localized river flooding is the main concern for the spring of 2014.

Causing more property damage in the United States than any other weather-related event and costing companies an average of $2-3 billion in losses annually worldwide, according to Vice President of Research at FM Global Dr. Lou Gritzo.

Moderate flooding is expected this spring in portions of the Midwest.

Areas in southern Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as parts of Iowa, Illinois and Indiana should be on alert for moderate flooding this spring. High water content in the snowpack integrated with predictions of above-normal precipitation and wet periods from April through June may put rivers in the area at risk.

In the Great Lakes region, the severe ice from winter will elevate the flood risk, as nearly 92.2 percent of the Great Lakes covered in ice, as of March 6, 2014. Significant river ice along with the Great Lakes ice could increase the flood risk due to the likelihood of ice jams and breakups.

"Rivers and creeks that drain into Lake Erie will elevate the flood risk," Acting Director of NOAA's Office of Hydrologic Development Robert Hartmann said.

Moving west, already saturated soil conditions may lead to moderate flooding in western South Dakota along the Cheyenne River if additional snow or rain falls over the region. Across the Great Plains, an increased chance to exceed the minor flood stage exists.

Throughout Missouri and eastern Kansas, the threat for moderate flooding will remain through the spring, as some areas have already experienced minor flooding this year.

In addition, both the Red River and the Souris River may also encounter moderate flooding, impacting areas from eastern North Dakota into northwest Minnesota with certain areas like Fargo, N.D.

Minor flooding, or flooding that creates little to no property damage but threatens some public property, is possible this spring in Ohio, the Northeast, northern Rockies and Southeast.

As some cities in the Northeast experienced some of their snowiest winters on record this year, the potential for flooding will be minor with only a chance for exceeding minor river flood levels existing from the Upper Midwest eastward through New England. Communities in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine will likely see some flooding.

While some flooding has already occurred in Montana and Wyoming, there is a greater than 50 percent chance that these areas will exceed the minor flood stage at certain river points along the Musselshell River, North Platte River and the Wind River this spring.

Depending on the amount of rain that falls this spring, areas from eastern Texas to southern Virginia also run the risk for some minor flooding.

However, any type of early tropical wave development could lead to some flooding in southeastern and eastern Florida too, according to Lead Long-Range Forecaster Paul Pastelok.

A very low chance for flooding prevails throughout the Southwest, as the drought persists in the region. However, some flash flooding could transpire if heavy rain were to fall over a short time period.

"Looking forward we see little improvement; unfortunately, the drought is expected to persist," Acting Chief of the Operational Prediction Branch of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center Jon Gottschalck said. "If the drought persists, it will likely result in an active wildfire season."

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