As weather turns warm, focus turns to possible flooding

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- It feels far from spring, but in the coming months, all the snow that you see now will melt away and will likely flow into rivers and lakes.

The National Weather Service said flood potential in Wisconsin is just above normal, but the degree of flooding we'll see depends on how fast the snow melts.

Eau Claire County Emergency Management director Tom Hurley said when there’s a flood, it can be both dangerous and costly. That’s why the county is preparing ahead.

“We pre-ordered additional sandbags and we have sand available. We're now pushing out public information to avoid flooded waterways if that were to happen,” said Hurley.

He said there are about 20,000 to 30,000 sandbags available for communities that face flooding this year.

Among the most flood-prone areas is behind Hobbs Ice Arena, along Owen Park and the Forest St. area in Eau Claire. Some areas along Lake Altoona also face potential for flooding.

“Low lying areas obviously flood. The entrance way to some of the lakes in the area flood, any river, any body of water is obviously are able to flood,” said Hurley. “A lot of times when we see an over-bank flooding, we see a forecast for that and it doesn't just hit all at once, whereas flash flooding is more dangerous for life and safety.”

Flash flooding would occur if the snow melted all at once due to high temperatures.

Skywarn 13 chief meteorologist Darren Maier said the biggest factor is how quickly we warm up this spring.

“We know we have a lot of snow on the ground. We know it has roughly four to six inches of water equivalence. So if that were to all melt all at once, we'd be in trouble with flooding,” said Maier. “The other thing is frost depth. We know in the Chippewa Valley, it’s a lot deeper than average. If we do get a quick warm up, that water is not going to be able to sink into the ground. It’s going to run off into the river basins and that’s when you run into high flood potentials into the river.”

Maier also said since around December 1st, the Chippewa Valley has seen about 60 inches of snow. In any given year, we get about 46 inches on average. In March, he said NOAA is forecasting a greater chance of staying below average which could reduce the risk of rapid melt.

Hurley said if you live in flood potential areas make sure you have a plan.

“The action to be taken is beforehand. You want to ensure you and your family have a plan. We take great steps to protect property and life in flooding events and we ask that you be aware and report that in the event that you know flood waters comes into your home,” said Hurley.

The National Weather Service in La Crosse said it’s planning to release an updated spring snow-melt flood outlook on March 6th.

March 17-21 marks NWS’s Flood Safety Awareness week.

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