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ST. LOUIS – When it comes to spring flooding, several big factors are taken into consideration.

  • Streamflow: the volume of water moving through a channel
  • Snow-water equivalent: amount of liquid water contained within snowpack
  • Soil moisture: how much water is being stored in soil as opposed to rivers and lakes

Looking at all these factors and the forecasted rainfall, the National Weather Service issued the first Spring Outlook for 2022 on February 10. And the data points to one thing.

“We’re just not primed for a big flood event this spring,” said Mark Fuchs, a senior hydrologist with the National Weather Service.

The Missouri River basin has experienced widespread, persistent drought. Pair that with the fact that there is almost no snow on the ground in Kansas, Nebraska, most of South Dakota, eastern Colorado, and Wyoming.

“Usually there is something. But the fact that there is no snow and the fact that area has been in drought since last summer,” Fuchs said. “We’re looking at a very low likelihood of flooding on the Missouri throughout the spring.”

The probabilities for minor flooding are below 50% at all gauges along the Missouri River. The drought and lack of snow to melt and drain into the basin also mean a bit of a shock when driving over Missouri River bridges.

“We see that. You drive across 364 or Interstate 64 or even 370 and I-70, you see…from those bridges you see a lot that you didn’t use to see before,” Fuchs said. “A lot of sandbars. Oh wow, that’s a low river.”

Similarly, moderate drought across Minnesota and Wisconsin paired with low snow water equivalents in the snowpack mean that spring flood probabilities are near or below normal along the Mississippi River. However, there is a better influx of water from tributaries, so probabilities are higher than along the Missouri.

“But downstream from Hannibal to about Alton, Mel Price Lock and Dam, flooding is likely. And the risk for flooding there is pretty close to normal in those areas,” Fuchs said.

Recent rain and snowmelt in the immediate St. Louis region have brought soil moisture up and led to a small rise in local rivers.

“For local streams, the Cuivre, the Meramec, Kaskaskia, even the Illinois, all of them are a little higher than they used to be,” Fuchs said. “So, there is the potential…a little bit enhanced potential for Spring flooding on all the local tributaries.”

The outlook is issued based on current data and forecasts. A big rain or snow event in the coming weeks could change things, but it would take a lot.

“It’s going to take more than that one event or even several events to bring it up to bank-full. So, for the big rivers, we have some work to do to get a significant flood. And there’s a good chance we won’t see it this year,” Fuchs said.