The combination of frozen land that hasn’t yet thawed, saturation levels, melting snow, and spring storms all contribute to spring flooding conditions.
- Winter temperatures freeze the ground and don’t allow snow or rain to penetrate into the earth. Sometimes this even leads to flash flooding, which occurs when water cannot be absorbed and flows where gravity takes the rushing water.
- Saturation levels, which is the water stored in the soil, also impacts flood risk. If the saturation levels are high, that means the soil isn’t able to absorb as much moisture from melting snow or from snow or rain that comes with spring storms.
- Snow is a double-edged sword for spring flooding. Often it acts as an insulator to the ground underneath keeping it frozen for longer periods of time. It also holds a lot of water and when snow melts quickly, the remaining water needs somewhere to go if it’s not able to melt into the earth below it.
- Spring still brings turbulent weather to the Midwest. Massive rains that cannot soak into the soil and blizzards capable of dumping feet of snow in a matter of hours are not uncommon.
- Spring also can bring warm temperatures. If there is a period of sun and warm air to rapidly melt the snow, then flood risk starts to soar.
The conditions listed above help produce what is called a spring freshet. Merriam-Webster defines freshet as:
- a great rise or overflowing of a stream caused by heavy rains or melted snow
- a swelling quantity
Spring freshets go hand-in-hand with the spring thaw that often causes waterways to flood river valleys.
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