AUGUSTA — Ice breaking will start on the Kennebec River next week, the U.S. Coast Guard announced Friday, a day after meteorologists upped the risk for spring flooding in Maine.
Three Coast Guard boats will break ice over multiple days starting Wednesday on the stretch of the river between Gardiner and Merrymeeting Bay in Sagadahoc, Lincoln and Cumberland counties. It’s a nearly annual event on the river that rings in spring’s start, but this year, it has a bigger significance.
On Thursday, the National Weather Service called the state’s risk for spring flooding and ice jams above normal, saying the region should head into April with a deep snow pack. Unseasonably cold temperatures have caused ice to form and snow to stay later into the season. Between one and three inches of new snow is expected over much of Maine’s southern half on Saturday.
“It’s the winter that keeps on giving,” said Lynette Miller, spokeswoman for the Maine Emergency Management Agency.
The longer the deep snow pack and thick ice stay in tact, experts say, the bigger risk there is for warmer temperatures and heavy rains in April to quickly melt snow and ice to bring flooding on rivers in Maine’s coastal and southern portions.
Maine’s flood risk was expected to go up around this time: Two weeks ago, the weather service called the state’s risk normal in the short term, but said it would increase in spring.
Certain spots along the Kennebec are particularly prone to flooding. The worst in the last several years was in 2010, when an ice jam flooded low-lying parts of Augusta and Hallowell, sending water into streets, lots and basements.
In February, the U.S. Geological Survey found up to 1.6 feet of ice on the river between Richmond and Dresden. About as much is expected once the Coast Guard boats go out.
“There’s a lot of ice in the river this year, and our aim is to give it a clear path to go out to sea,” a Coast Guard captain said in a statement.