Snowmelt has National Weather Service keeping watch of potential river flooding

Feb 4, 2019

National Weather Service
Credit National Weather Service

The early February thaw has melted away dangerously icy roads, but it’s also raising river levels across West Michigan. Sixteen inches of melting snow melting in a short amount of time has to go somewhere.

The National Weather Service tells us we’ve experienced similar mid-winter melts before. The ground is frozen, blanketed with a foot or more of snow. And then, prolonged winds out of the south usher temperatures in the 40s and 50s.

“That is not terribly unusual and in fact we did see that last February we had about a foot of snow on the ground and then temperatures in the 40s melted that down to about 4 inches in about one day. So, expect something fairly similar.”

Cort Scholten is National Weather Service meteorologist at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport. He tells us the snowpack is compressing.

“It’ll go down. Not all of the water will be released out of the snowpack until it gets down to maybe an inch or two deep. And then the rain that’s on the way it does not look as heavy as the three inches of rain that we had that one day last February which then caused the significant flood issues across West Michigan. For now it looks like we’re talking about a quarter inch of rain or so. Some of which will be absorbed into the snowpack. But it may cause the rivers to rise somewhat which would break up the ice in some spots may create some ice jams in some parts of the rivers and would cause some fluctuations in river levels that we’ll have to pay attention to over the next week.”

Are there areas the National Weather Service is keeping a close eye on?

“Yes, right now on the Muskegon River from Newaygo to Bridgeton we are looking at an ice jam that is presently occurring it’s creating some elevated river levels there and a few spots along the river it’s spilling out of its banks creating some minor flooding. Another area of concern that’s fairly typical in the Grand Rapids area is the Grand River at Comstock Park and Robinson Township some ice jams can occur in that area as well.”

Scholten says it all depends where the chunks of ice get stuck along the river.

The warm-up won’t last long with temperatures expected to drop into more seasonal 20’s this week.

Patrick Center, WGVU News.