Conditions ripe for ‘historic’ flooding, Weather Service says

March 12, 2019

A confluence of factors has led the National Weather Service to warn of the possibility of “historic” flooding this week.

Much of eastern Nebraska is expected to get anywhere from 1 to 2½ inches of rain through Thursday, which certainly isn’t a historic amount, especially in March.

But, combine that precipitation with frozen ground, saturated soil, a still hefty but melting snowpack and thick ice on many rivers, and you’ve got a recipe “to produce a well above normal flood risk for a storm of this magnitude,” the National Weather Service said in a situation report issued Tuesday morning.

Most of eastern Nebraska is in a flood watch through Thursday night, and the Weather Service said several rivers in the area are expected to reach major flood stage over the next several days, including the Missouri, Platte, Elkhorn and Blue. Record or near-record water levels are possible.

For example, the Platte River near Louisville is expected to crest at 12.2 feet on Thursday, which would be just below the record of 12.4 feet.

In some areas, flooding won’t come until later. The Missouri River at Brownville is expected to reach its crest of 44.3 feet on Sunday. The record level there is 44.8 feet. Missouri River levels are expected to stay above flood stage for more than a week.

J. Renee Crisler, the Nemaha County emergency management director, said the Brownville area floods often and so normal precautions are being taken, such as notifying residents and making sure there aren’t any people camping in parks near the river.

Shell Creek, near Columbus, is forecast to blow past its record flood level of 22.8 feet, with a crest of 24.7 feet predicted for late Wednesday.

The Lincoln area could see some minor flooding from Salt Creek. The creek is expected to crest at 19.2 feet at Roca and 20.8 feet at North 27th Street, both of which are just above the threshold for minor flooding.

Farther north, moderate flooding is forecast along the creek at both Greenwood and Ashland.

Salt Creek flows south to north before connecting to the Platte River at Mahoney State Park.

On Thursday, colder air will arrive, and rain could turn to snow in some areas. Lincoln is expected to receive little if any snow, although high winds could be a problem, with gusts of 45-50 mph possible on Thursday.

Just west of Lincoln, an inch or two of snow is possible, which, when combined with high winds, could make travel difficult.

Much farther west, the Weather Service has issued blizzard warnings for the Nebraska Panhandle and other parts of western Nebraska.

The storm system is expected to reach the state by Tuesday night. Snow totals ranging up to 17 inches are expected by Thursday evening. The Weather Service says winds gusting to 55 mph or higher will produce whiteout conditions, making travel very difficult to impossible Wednesday and Thursday.

“If and when it snows it will be a blizzard,” Jerilyn Billings Wright, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Hastings, said during a conference call Tuesday afternoon.

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