Forecast: Low Chance of Major Floods in Nebraska and Iowa

A repeat of last year’s massive flooding along the Missouri River appears unlikely in Iowa and Nebraska.

photo credit: FEMA

The National Weather Service issued flooding forecasts this week, and said that the mild winter has lowered the state’s risk. If the weather turns cold or additional snow arrives, however, the flood risk could increase. The three-month flood forecasts will be updated on March 1.

Last year, above-average snowpack combined with May’s unexpected heavy rains in the Northern Plains caused the Missouri River to flood in June. The high waters continued well into the fall for some places along the river’s 2,341 miles. The flooding caused at least $630 million in damage to flood-control structures and damaged hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland.

Hydrologist Dave Pearson said the current conditions do not appear conducive to large-scale flooding, but snow will continue to accumulate in the mountains for some time. The mountain snowpack that feeds into the Missouri River is at about 84 percent of normal levels at this point – similar to last year – but Pearson said snowpack on the Plains is nearly nonexistent.

“From a flooding perspective, being below normal at this point in the season is certainly a positive,” Pearson said.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the reservoirs along the Missouri River, has said warmer temperatures this winter allowed it to clear out some extra flood-storage space. Officials said they have about 500,000 acre-feet of extra space available for storing floodwater in the reservoirs.

The mild winter also hasn’t allowed much thick ice to form on area rivers, so the chances of ice-jam flooding is down. That could change if the temperatures drop for a prolonged period.

In Nebraska and Iowa, the weather service says the risk for flooding this spring is near or below normal at most places.

Minor flooding is expected along the Missouri River south of Omaha and Council Bluffs, and some flooding is also likely along the North Platte River near North Platte. This is common in lowland areas every spring.

Jeff Zogg, who works in the weather service’s Johnston, Iowa, office, said the wet soil and high snowpack that contribute for widespread flooding are missing this year.