AUGUSTA — Drivers who regularly park their cars in the low-lying Front Street lot might want to seek higher ground later this week.
State and federal officials on Monday said quickly melting snow caused by Monday’s temperature spike, combined with a couple of inches of rain that could fall Tuesday, will push the Kennebec River over its banks Wednesday morning into Thursday. While it is not expected to be a catastrophic event, some people could wind up pumping water out of their basements.
“The flood potential is well above normal, it’s high, and with the forecast it’s extremely high,” Greg Stewart of the U.S. Geological Survey said during a conference call Monday with the Maine River Flow Advisory Commission. “It will be well into the parking lots at Augusta.”
Hydrologist Tom Hawley of the National Weather Service in Gray said rain is expected to move in early Tuesday morning and fall heavily at times throughout the day. Temperatures will top out near 60 degrees after approaching 70 throughout the central part of the state on Monday. The region could see up to 2 inches of rain, with the bullseye running from Bethel to Bingham.
The Kennebec River at Augusta on Monday was already running high, around 8.5 feet, but still well below the 12-foot flood stage, according to the National Weather Service. Forecasters are predicting the river to crest above flood stage Wednesday morning and peak at just over 16 feet around 9 p.m. Wednesday. The river is expected to still be above flood stage, about 15 feet, at noon on Thursday. A longer-range forecast was unavailable.
At Sidney, where the flood level is 17 feet, the river is expected to crest at 20 feet Wednesday evening.
Hawley said water will likely creep into lower parking lots in Gardiner — such as the Hannaford lot — and in Skowhegan.
“I think folks in Augusta, where the parking lot is, should take precautions,” Hawley said. “I think they could see water come into their buildings.”
Richard Beausoleil, director of the Kennebec County Emergency Management Agency, said his office had already alerted town officials up and down the river.
“We’re making phone calls already,” he said. “So far, so good.”
Flooding potential remains high across Maine, particularly along northern Maine rivers, like the St. John in Aroostook, which still has a thick ice pack. Ice jams have developed on a few rivers, including the Carrabasset, Stewart said.
Bruce Fitzgerald, director of the Maine Emergency Management Agency, said as of last week there was still up to 7 inches of water equivalent in snow on the ground in western Maine and up to 11 inches in northwest Maine. Warmer weather over the past several days has likely helped, but remaining water content is still high.
“As of last week everywhere was above normal,” Fitzgerald said. “I would expect we’re still above normal for this time of year.”
The midweek storm may end as snow Wednesday morning — snow could actually accumulate in the mountains — before high pressure moves in for the rest of the week. The extended forecast features a few chances for showers, but generally temperatures in western Maine will fall below freezing at night and into the 40s and 50s during the day. The slowly melting snow will give the river a chance to absorb the runoff.
“The conditions later in the week will be ideal for melting snow,” Hawley said.
Craig Crosby — 621-5642[email protected]Twitter: @CraigCrosby4