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Record winter warmth may lessen spring flooding

The record warmth across the United States this winter may bring fewer floods this spring.

Floodwaters leave the banks of Bayou Manchac, an 18-mile-long bayou in southeast Louisiana near Baton Rouge.
Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development | Handout | Reuters
Floodwaters leave the banks of Bayou Manchac, an 18-mile-long bayou in southeast Louisiana near Baton Rouge.

March 20 marks the first day of astronomical spring, but many parts of the country have already stowed away the scarves and mittens. Global average temperatures in February showed record-breaking departures from historical averages, and the three-month period from December to February also veered the furthest from the averages recorded, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

The mild and short winter has yielded relatively little snowpack in many regions of the country, which means there will be less snow melting come spring. Less snowmelt means there is a lower risk that rivers will flood, as they tend to do this time of year.

However, some regions are flooded — heavy rains have flooded areas along the Mississippi River and other areas in the Southeast, including East Texas, Louisiana and southern Arkansas, said Tom Graziano of NOAA's National Water Center on a call with reporters Thursday.

"This year we have already seen the devastation flooding can cause," Graziano said.

However, he added, these rains will soon reach a peak and begin to subside in many of those places, if they have not already.

As with weather, there are no guarantees. Above average rain is expected in some regions this spring, including the southern half of the country (and Western Alaska). Heavy rains could still put some places underwater.

The northern half of the U.S. is expected to be a bit drier than normal this spring, however, further reducing the chances those areas will flood.

Flooding remains the leading cause severe weather-related deaths in the U.S, Graziano said. There is a flood somewhere in the country every day, and about 100 people die every year from flood-related causes.