Mild Winter Reduces Springtime Flood Risk in New England

March 27, 2020

A mild winter is giving emergency management officials one less thing to worry about: The spring flooding risk is reduced in New England.

There’s a lower-than-average risk of ice jams causing river backups and flooding in most of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, the National Weather Service said. There’s still some concern about a few rivers in far northern Maine, however.

For the most part, “the ice jam threat is really gone for the season,” said Tom Hawley, hydrologist with the weather service in Gray, Maine.

It was a mild winter. In Portland, Maine, the average temperature was 7.5 degrees above average in January, 4.3 degrees above average in February and 6.3 degrees above average so far in March, Hawley said.

Coast Guard ice breakers had an easy time of it. There was ice in the Kennebec and Penobscot rivers, but not as much as in past years, said Lt. Matthew Odom, a Coast Guard spokesman.

“It was a mild ice-breaking year,” Odom said. “We definitely saw less ice.”

The snow pack also is below normal across most of the region and the ground is not saturated with moisture, additional factors that point to a reduced flooding risk, officials said.

None of that is to say the region is totally out of the woods. Even with mitigating conditions, a heavy rainfall alone can cause dangerous flash flooding, officials said.

And in far northern Maine, near the Canadian border, there’s still deep snow and a mile-long ice jam on the Aroostook River in Fort Fairfield, said Joseph Hewitt of the National Weather Service in Caribou.

Overall, the ice jam risk is normal or near normal on the St. John, Allagash, and Aroostook rivers, and the weather forecast points toward a steady snow and ice melt that should reduce the risk, he said.

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