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Soggy spring: NOAA 2019 Spring Outlook not good

W. Kenneth Medley II • Mar 22, 2019 at 12:00 AM

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration laid out details of the 2019 Spring Outlook released Thursday, which predicts possible historic flood events for some Southeast states.

Edward Clark, director of NOAA’s National Water Center, said that 200,000 million Americans or two-thirds of the lower 48 states will experience a flood event, and 13 million will experience major flooding during spring.

NOAA is predicting minor to moderate flooding across Tennessee and possible major flooding along the Mississippi River in the west. Higher than average rainfall during winter months and expected higher than average rainfalls during spring are the cause for concern, in the Johnson City area.

“It will really be dependent on what kind of rainfall we get over the next couple of months that we get across that area,” said Jeff Grashel, forecaster for the National Weather Service Lower Mississippi Forecast Center, which covers Tennessee. “We had almost annual record rainfall over portions of the Tennessee Valley last year and that continued through the early part of this winter and into spring.”

The data from the 2019 Spring Outlook indicates the possibility of minor to moderate flooding. This flooding could result from the 33 to 40 percent chance of higher than average rainfall predicted. The NOAA said that with technology the agency has “become better than ever” at making accurate predictions.

Major flooding in the Midwest is predicted to continue and possibly worsen. Representatives from NOAA said soil saturation, pack ice, snow melt and more rain may cause conditions along the upper Mississippi and Missouri Rivers to reach historic flood levels.

They say that conditions could become dire in New Orleans.

The surge of southbound floodwater could cause salt water from the Gulf of Mexico to move inland, compromising drinking water. A representative from the Federal Emergency Management Agency detailed plans for sandbags and other countermeasures during the teleconference.

Johnson City recently completed construction on King Commons, flood mitigation project, the second in downtown. The first was Founders Park. During February flooding, the streets of downtown were clear.

Flash flooding remains a danger for the region.

Localized rainfall can be heavy and hard to track, according to Ingrid Luffman, a geologist at East Tennessee State University. Luffman collects data on local rainfall and water levels as part of the citizen science project at Founders Park. 

“Soil moisture conditions are very wet,” said Grashel, “and a lot of the area has receded from the previous rainfalls we had in February and March. Certainly rainfall in the spring can be heavy at times and certainly that possibility is there.”

FEMA, NWS and NOAA wants to remind the public to “turn around, don’t drown.” A spokeswoman said that most deaths during flood events occur by people drowning in their vehicle. A FEMA representative said to have a plan and make sure family members know what to do during emergencies.

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