FLOOD PROTECTION

Increased risk of spring flooding predicted for Eastern Iowa

Snow moisture, soil saturation, rain and river levels all factor into National Weather Service flood outlook

The Cedar River flows under a bridge on Blairs Ferry Road east of Palo on Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019. The National Weather Service in the Quad Cities announced two new flood monitoring sites along the Cedar River, in Palo and Cedar Bluff. The NWS will begin providing river forecasts and warnings beginning January 15, 2019. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
The Cedar River flows under a bridge on Blairs Ferry Road east of Palo on Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019. The National Weather Service in the Quad Cities announced two new flood monitoring sites along the Cedar River, in Palo and Cedar Bluff. The NWS will begin providing river forecasts and warnings beginning January 15, 2019. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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Eastern Iowa can expect higher-than-usual flood risks — but not for a few weeks, the National Weather Service predicts.

Thursday’s relatively balmy weather caused some snow to melt and prompted fears of flooded creeks, rivers and low-lying areas. The return of below-freezing temperatures Friday forestalled most flooding, but Eastern Iowa’s risks are elevated for March, said Jessica Brooks, service hydrologist for the weather service’s Quad Cities bureau.

“We’re likely to have above-normal chances for flooding,” Brooks said.

The Weather Service will publish spring flood predictions Thursday, looking at the probabilities for flooding at dozens of forecasting sites on Eastern Iowa rivers. Factoring into the outlook are snow moisture levels, soil saturation, rain predictions, ice jams and river levels, Brooks said.

Based on these factors, the probability Eastern Iowa rivers will surpass flood stage is greater than normal, she said.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean major flooding,” Brooks said. “It could be minor.”

Since much of Iowa’s water still is frozen, flood experts say it’s a good time to see what flood prep information is available online.

The Iowa Flood Center, based at the University of Iowa, has short-term flood forecasts at 3,000 sites across the state available online at the Iowa Flood Information System.

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The interactive website has inundation maps of Iowa cities that allow users to select a flood stage and see where the water spreads. There is a flood hazard calculator, and users can sign up for text alerts from the site.

“We have close partnerships with the National Weather Service and the Corps of Engineers,” said Nathan Young, flood center associate director. “We’re exchanging information all the time and use this (flood information system) as kind of a portal to share information and visualize it. We’ve made an effort to make it accessible to everyone.”

The flood center’s models will show for the first time this spring how Cedar Rapids flood protection projects, such as the Sinclair levee, will affect flooding in the city, Young said. That project, completed in 2017, includes a half-mile levee and flood wall, pump station and 4.4-acre water retention basin.

Two other Eastern Iowa communities are poised to get additional information about flooding.

The weather service last month added forecasting at Palo in Linn County and Cedar Bluff in Cedar County, both on the Cedar River. Both locations already have gauges measuring the water level and flow, but the weather service will start providing forecasts, as well as watches and warnings as necessary when the river is high.

The agency added forecasting at the sites based on requests from emergency managers and city officials who said they needed more data to predict rising water.

l Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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