Experts say flood risk is normal in La Crosse

Even with all the snow, flood outlook shows no sign of flood concern

Even with all the winter weather the La Crosse area has seen this year, the National Weather Service’s first flood outlook of the season shows no sign of concern for flooding.

Hydrologist Mike Welvaert with the National Weather Service in La Crosse said the La Crosse area is at a normal flood risk for this time of year. He said the chance of flooding along the Mississippi River this spring is relatively low.

“It shows it was about 5 feet, rising just a little bit in the last couple of days but that’s not very much,” said Welvaert.

According to the hydrologic outlook report, the Mississippi River in La Crosse has a 95 percent chance of reaching more than 9 feet, which is to be expected. However, it only has a 25 percent chance of reaching the flood level stage, which is 12 feet.

“If we do experience any flooding, it does look like it will be of the minor variety,” said Welvaert.

One of the major factors is the type of snow we’ve been dealing with all year.

“There’s not a lot of water content in the current snow that’s out there now. It’s more of a dry, light snow,” said Welvaert.

However, Welvaert said it all depends on how fast the snow melts.

“If we warm up in to the 60s, the snow will melt very quickly and translate into a lot of water quickly,” said Welvaert. “If we have a real slow melt like we did last year and even the year before that it melted off rather slowly. Then the risk for flooding is much lower.”

Forecaster Jeff Boyne with the National Weather Service in La Crosse said the La Crosse area is right on trend for that to happen again.

“We may have something like we saw last spring where the temps warmed up above freezing during the day and then refroze at night. So we were able to let small portions of water melt, flow into the streams, flow away from the area and then refreeze at night,” said Boyne.

If the cool temperatures stick around too long it could cause some problems.

“If we do continue to hold onto the snow longer and longer and longer out through March, that increases the likelihood that we will see a rapid warm-up and the rapid warm-ups are what really get us every year so we’ll have to watch out for that,” said Welvaert.

In the La Crosse area, Welvaert said residents experience two flood seasons in the spring. The first is usually in March, when the melted snow runs off into the smaller tributary streams, which then runs into the Mississippi and is carried away from us. The second one is in April, when all the snow melts north and travels down the Mississippi toward La Crosse.

The National Weather Service in La Crosse will be releasing its second flood outlook in about two weeks on March 6.