NOAA’s Spring Outlook report looks at what areas may be at risk for severe weather as it hopes to build a "weather-ready nation."
Winter is officially over, and as the country thaws out over the next several weeks, assessing spring flood risk is one of NOAA’s top priorities.
"NOAA produces these seasonal outlooks to help communities prepare for what’s likely to come in the next few months and minimize weather’s impact on lives and livelihoods … and build a weather-ready nation," says Maureen O’Leary, public affairs specialist with NOAA.
Because the Midwest is emerging from a colder-than-normal weather, flooding risks may take their time to emerge, explains Robert Hartman, acting director of NOAA’s Office of Hydrologic Development.
"Much of the United States is still in a deep freeze," he says. "The continuation of winter weather, along with above-average snowpack, frozen ground and ice coverage on springs and rivers will delay spring flooding into April in the upper Midwest through New England."
Minor to moderate flooding is likely along much of the upper Midwest, with the severity dependent on snowmelt speed and the intensity of spring precipitation, he says. Notable areas of risk include southern Wisconsin, southern Michigan, and portions of Iowa, Illinois and Indiana.
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Other flood-risk areas include:
- Small streams and rivers in the lower Missouri basin in Missouri and Eastern Kansas
- The Red River of the North between eastern North Dakota and northwest Minnesota, and the Souris River in North Dakota
- The northern Rockies and northern Great Plains in portions of Montana, and Wyoming
- The lower Mississippi River basin and in the Southeast, including east Texas, southern Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, northern Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, and southern Virginia
Flooding can present immediate safety issues, especially in vehicles, Hartman says.
"Flooding is the leading cause of severe weather-related deaths, claiming in the U.S. on average 100 lives a year," he says. "Please take NOAA’s advice when approaching a water-covered roadway – turn around, don’t drown." NOAA offers additional flood safety tips at http://www.floodsafety.noaa.gov/.
Winter conditions and spring flooding will also bear some longer-term effects on farming, including probable planting delays across much of the upper Midwest, says USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey.
"In areas further to the north where frost depths are so incredibly deep and we have more snowpack remaining, I think we’re going to have spring fieldwork delays," he says.
Historically, later planting could lead to reduced yield potential, especially in corn, because pollination occurs later in the summer when the weather is potentially hotter, Rippey says. But with increased climate variability, this has not always been the case, he says.
"But in recent years, that relationship has kind of gone out the window," he says.
Rippey says researchers are currently reevaluating the correlation between planting date and final yields in the wake of increased climate variability over the past six years.
NOAA also released its seasonal drought outlook. Drought is expected to intensify across the west and southwest, putting stress on crops and livestock, and elevating wildfire risks in these regions.
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The seasonal precipitation outlook has been much more difficult to predict with confidence, says Jon Gottschalck, acting chief, of the Operational Prediction Branch of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. Aside from a drier West, the entire country is projected at an equal chance of receiving average, above-average or below-average precipitation for April-June. But that vague prediction is nonetheless deliberate, Gottschalck explains.
"We don’t like it, but we feel it’s prudent not to indicate that we know more than we do," he says.
Click here for additional spring weather projections from NOAA.