2023 Spring Flood Outlook: Where will all this water go?

Published: Apr. 11, 2023 at 10:52 PM CDT
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DULUTH, MN. (Northern News Now) - “Yeah, there really isn’t a watershed in the Northland that doesn’t have a flood risk.” That is what Ketzel Levens, a Meteorologist and part of the Hydrology Team at the National Weather Service in Duluth, said to us.

This was a winter for the record books.

But as we see temperatures warming up this week, all the snow must go somewhere and it’s Ketzel Levens’s job with the National Weather Service to figure out where all that water will go.

“The baseline that we always start with is just how much water do we have to work with,” said Levens.

Levens says the water equivalent in the snow is about 7-9″ on average. All that water is funneled through the Northland’s various watersheds.

“Watershed is an area of streams, lakes, rivers, and that’s going to drain down to a common outlet. One that might be familiar with you, or you can think of, the St. Louis River watershed,” said Levens.

But our region has several watersheds. And according to the snowpack shown here, there will be no shortage of snow runoff.

Snowpack in our watersheds
Snowpack in our watersheds(KBJR WX)

Levens said, “We have this really deep snowpack but not just in a localized area but across the entire northland right now.”

This week, the snow will ripen. This is basically when the snow melts slightly to become as water-dense as possible, and when that happens…

“Maybe it will take a day or two for that snow to become perfectly ripe but once it does, it has the potential to just hop off,” Levens said.

Across the region, the ripened snowpack will begin to melt and flow into the region’s streams and creeks.

Levens explains, “So your main rivers fill up and then the main tributaries that flow into them can’t go anywhere. So, you start to get back water.”

Each watershed has a different topography and geology that will impact how the water flows. Up the North Shore, the rivers are more flashy or rise and fall rapidly. Whereas in other areas the water will flow slowly, leading to a slow rise and fall.

“Some of those areas that are particularly concerning are flowages, low-lying rivers across northwest Wisconsin that can move kind of slowly. And then, of course, the Mississippi as well,” said Levens.

Eventually, over the next couple of weeks, the rivers will recede, and we will see everything go back to normal, as long as we don’t have an overly wet spring.

Amazingly, all this melt won’t have a long-term impact on our drought status.

Levens explained, “As we melt out, it’s probably going to impact potential drought status for a month or two. But it’s not going to have anything to do with once we get into July and August it’s not going to have any kind of impact.”

In Duluth, Chief Meteorologist Adam Lorch.