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Louisville meteorologist explains how ice & snow can lead to flooding

Snow on a city street
Joseph Lord
Both the frozen ground and melting snow can lead

Every week Tawana Andrew breaks down what we know and what we don't about the climate and weather here in Louisville.

Rough winters can set the stage for big floods. WAVE 3 meteorologist Tawana Andrew explains the nuances of how communities can go from ice-hardened round and roads to overflowing rivers and streams.

This transcript was lightly edited for clarity

Bill Burton: It is time for us to take a look at the Science Behind the Forecast as I am joined by WAVE 3 meteorologist Tawana Andrew. Good morning, Tawana.

Tawana Andrew: Good morning. Today we're talking about another aspect of winter that we usually don't think about, especially when you're always focusing on the snow and the ice and the frigid temperatures that we've already seen.

BB: Yeah, one thing you generally don't think too much about in the winter is is flooding. We've seen a lot of it, of course in Southern California and in Texas, and just the last week or so. But we are focused on snow and ice and the flooding that can come from that. What do we need to know?

TA: Well, flooding most of what you think about in terms of snow melt, and the flooding that that can cause is usually an issue in the late winter and early spring when you start to see those warming temperatures showing up. That can really help to quickly melt snow.

Now when you have this layer of snow and ice, what it does is it saturates the soil. So all of that moisture is already in the soil. Think of it as a sponge. And once you put more water on top of it in the case of high rainfall rates, that can contribute to flooding, especially in creeks, streams, rivers. And while we typically think bodies of water when you're thinking of snow melt, flooding, even basements, drainage areas near our homes, all of those could be impacted. So that's something that we have to think about in case we get a little bit more of that snow coming back into the forecast and especially if we get rain coming up right behind it.

Frozen soil also helps to increase the flooding threat. Let's say if we deal with more of those ungodly cold temperatures, like what we've seen recently, you basically end up with a situation where the ice in the soil helps to limit the amount of water that the ground can absorb. Overall, warmer temperatures during the winter months can actually help to lower this threat, not necessarily what you typically want to see. But this is one of those situations where a bad thing is also leading to a good thing. So have to keep that in mind.

Also, ice jams. This is not typically something we think about in Kentucky and Indiana when it comes to winter flooding or just in general. But ,ice jams certainly can lead to flooding, especially in areas where rivers slow down. Like where we have narrow paths or bends. Ice ends up getting stuck in these locations and it acts basically like a dam, helping to trap all of that water and then water levels slowly start to rise. So it's not a consistent threat and it's not a huge threat in our area. But it's still something to think about and keep in the back of your mind as we continue through the winter months.

BB: Yeah, definitely something to file away. You never know when something like that to could come up, especially if you're traveling somewhere north of us especially. But now we have a much better understanding of flooding in the winter because of things like snow and ice thanks to the latest edition of Science Behind the Forecast with WAVE 3 meteorologist Tawana Andrew. Thanks for the knowledge, Tawana.

TA: Of course.

Bill Burton is the Morning Edition host for LPM. Email Bill at bburton@lpm.org.

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