The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued its Spring Outlook on Thursday, warning that two-thirds of the lower 48 states are expected to face increased precipitation and flood risk through May.
This report comes as some areas of the Midwest are already experiencing historic and catastrophic levels of flooding due to a combination of factors, including late season snowfall, heavy rain, rapid snowmelt, high soil moisture, and ice jams. In the upper Mississippi and Red River of the North basins, spring precipitation is already up to 200 percent higher than normal, NOAA says. In Nebraska, the state at the center of the floods, it will take years to rebuild lost infrastructure and restore the state's valuable soil, Earther reports. Additional spring rain will prolong these conditions, NOAA says, making flooding threats worse and more widespread.
"This outlook will help emergency managers and community decision-makers all along the nation's major waterways prepare people and businesses for the flood threat," Neil Jacobs, Ph.D., NOAA's acting administrator, said in the report. "In addition to the safety aspects, our rivers are critical to the economic vitality of the nation, supporting commerce, recreation and transportation. NOAA forecasts and outlooks help people navigate extreme seasonal weather and water events to keep the country safe and moving forward."
Pacific Standard has reported on several cases of extreme weather this winter and spring addressed in NOAA's Spring Outlook:
- Emily Moon wrote about mounting flood damage in the Midwest, outlining what local officials are reporting: ongoing search and rescue missions, drinking water shortages, and private well contamination.
- In January, a polar vortex swept over much of the Midwest and New England, bringing bitter cold and snow. According to NOAA, record levels of precipitation set the stage for high flood risks this spring. Moon wrote about the increasing number of unsheltered people weathering the extreme conditions.
- Above-average precipitation in California has lifted the state out of its seven-year drought. Moon explored what data indicates this will mean for California's water conservation, and I wrote about a study showing that heavy precipitation may not impact California's impending fire season.
- Kate Wheeling wrote about the increasing accuracy of weather forecasting, including flood predictions, and the current threat to the accessibility of this key data.