AUGUSTA — The risk of flooding in Maine, and on the Kennebec River specifically, is well above normal for this time of year, authorities said Wednesday.
“We’re still very concerned about flooding,” said Bruce Fitzgerald, director of the Maine Emergency Management Agency. “There is a lot of snow still out there. Our flood potential is still probably very high, and we’re going to have to watch the weather and keep our fingers crossed for the rest of spring — whenever spring decides to come full force.”
The late arrival of warmer temperatures is a major factor in the flood risk remaining high, officials said during a conference call with the Maine River Flow Advisory Commission Wednesday. Temperatures have remained too cold for much thawing of the snow pack in northern Maine to take place with the potential to flood streams and rivers should warm temperatures come simultaneously with a rain storm.
“Everything we’re seeing is two to three weeks behind where we’d be in a normal winter,” said Greg Stewart, data section chief for the U.S. Geological Survey. “Right now I’d say the flood potential is above normal to significantly above normal.”
Tom Hawley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, agreed the potential for flooding on the Androscoggin and Kennebec rivers is well above normal, with lots of potential water on the ground in the area and at the headwaters of the major rivers.
Hawley said the next 10 to 14 days should bring temperatures somewhat below normal for this time of year, and precipitation somewhat above normal. He said a storm Friday into Saturday will bring mostly rain to central Maine, and a “more important” storm Tuesday could bring up to an inch of rain. Thus, he said, the next couple of weeks could add, not subtract, water from the snow pack in the mountains.
“I think we’re going to go into mid-April with significant snow pack,” Hawley said. “With that much snow on the ground, the flood potential has got to be well above normal.”
Last week, the U.S. Coast Guard sent four ice-cutters up the Kennebec River to break ice. March 27 they broke ice from Bath to Richmond. The following day, the three smaller, 65-foot cutters went through the Richmond-Dresden bridge to break ice up to Gardiner, where the Pearl Harbor Remembrance Bridge prevented them from going farther upriver.
The ice cutter crews stayed overnight in Gardiner and then headed back downriver on the 29th.
“They found the ice significantly thicker than what they initially encountered Thursday morning,” said Lt. Megan Drewniak, waterways management division chief for the Coast Guard. “We had some auxiliary aircraft fly over Saturday, and Monday, and that showed it is flushing out well.”
Stewart said river ice, even that not broken up by the Coast Guard, is getting thinner and losing strength in southern areas of the state, but remains thick in northern areas.
The River Flow Advisory Commission is made up of state, federal and industry officials who meet around this time of year to assess the potential for seasonal flooding across the state.
Parts of the downtowns of Augusta, Hallowell and Gardiner are especially vulnerable to flooding.
The worst most recent flooding occurred in January 2010 when an ice jam more than a mile long flooded Augusta and Hallowell’s downtowns, filling streets, parking lots and basements with icy water.
Keith Edwards – 621-5647 [email protected] Twitter: @kedwardskj