Rain in Forecast Could Lead to Flash Flooding Problems

By Vanessa Miller, Reporter

USGS surveyor Jason McVay collects data on the flow rate of the Iowa River from the Benton Street bridge just down stream from a river gauge at the University of Iowa Hydraulics Laboratory as he tests the accuracy of the gauge Tuesday, April 16, 2013 in Iowa City. The U.S. Geological Survey is responsible for maintaining 160 river and stream gauges across Iowa that relay their information via satellite to the National Weather Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the USGS for use in making predictions about flooding. (Brian Ray/The Gazette-KCRG)


By Aaron Hepker

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Rain is expected to soak much of Eastern Iowa for the rest of the week, raising concerns over flash flooding in the short-term and adding to the potential for more flooding later in the season.

“We have some significant rises on our land already,” said Terry Simmons, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in the Quad Cities. “With our moist and saturated ground, all our basins are going to be very sensitive to this rain.”

The weather service already has issued flood warnings for four rivers in Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois: the Wapsipinicon River near DeWitt, the Pecatonica River near Freeport, the Rock River near Joslin, and the Mainstem Mississippi River.

“We expect additional river rises around the state this week,” Simmons said. “It looks like it’s possible to get two to four inches of additional rainfall.”

According to the weather service, rain is expected to start falling in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City this morning, with the heaviest precipitation coming between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. Thursday. Totals are expected to top 3.2 inches in the corridor.

Some snow could mix with the rain on Friday, according to the weather service.

Because river levels are still well below actionable levels or flood stages, Simmons said the biggest concern with this week’s moisture is flash flooding in urban areas.

“There is the possibility that some areas will come up quite quickly,” she said.

This week’s moisture won’t be enough to raise local river levels to actionable or flood stage, according to the weather service. The Cedar River in Cedar Rapids, for example, currently sits at 6.87 feet – several feet away from the 10-foot actionable level and the 12-foot flood stage.

The Iowa River in Iowa City sits at 13.8 feet, well below flood stage at 22 feet.

“But, I think with this amount of moisture coming on already saturated ground, there’s a good chance for some urban flash flooding,” Simmons said.

The three-month outlook shows Eastern Iowa receiving slightly above average precipitation, according to the weather service.

“And we still have snow melt to deal with,” Simmons said.

Still, Linn County Emergency Management Director Mike Goldberg said, his staff so far hasn’t heard anything abnormal for this time of year.

“It’s spring in Iowa,” he said. “The rains are anticipated and necessary for things to grow. We just can’t always control how it comes down.”

He said Linn County still has a long way to go before it is threatened by another major flood. Regarding flash flooding, Goldberg said, those who are in the danger zones, know it.

“They know where they live and should be aware of the possibility of those conditions,” he said. “It’s just a matter of awareness.”

Each individual community is in charge of handling its flooding, Goldberg said, and the county agency only steps in when resources dry up or extra support is needed.

“We pay attention, monitor and are aware of it,” he said. “And the communities that are susceptible to it do the same thing.”

On the positive side, recent moisture has eliminated drought concerns for Eastern Iowa. The rest of the state has not yet moved away drought status, but the weather service’s drought outlook has all of Iowa continuing to improve through the end of June.

The outlook shows improvement in much of Minnesota and Michigan as well. For South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas, the weather service predicts the drought will mostly continue, with some improvement.

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