AUGUSTA — Maine’s river ice and snowpacks have remained unseasonably strong and aren’t expected to wane soon, which experts say may leave the state vulnerable to flooding in April.

At a Thursday meeting, members of the Maine River Flow Advisory Commission, a group of state, federal, local and other officials monitoring spring flood risk, said the threat will likely be above normal in coastal and central Maine by April, since lingering cold temperatures have left ice and snow conditions virtually unchanged in most of the state over the last two weeks.

Tom Hawley, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Gray, said temperatures are expected to remain cold into early April, leaving snow and ice. Although there is no predicted rain that would drive flooding in the next two weeks, he said the longer Maine goes into the year with deep snow and ice, the greater the potential for flooding.

“Right now, every week that goes by, I think our flood threat will be increasing,” he said. “By the time we get into April, I think we’re still going to have quite a bit of snow on the ground, and that’s kind of worrisome to me.”

The commission heard that much of Maine has between five and eight inches of water in its snowpack with the largest totals in the western mountains, rural Penobscot and Piscataquis counties and Down East.

In many places, that’s uncommon. From the Augusta area to Calais, water content in the snow is in the upper 10 percent of totals measured in the last 10 years at this time of year. Conditions are in the top 25 percent in most of York County, but they’re normal around Portland and in western Maine.

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At the meeting, Lt. Dan Bourbeau of the U.S. Coast Guard said the agency plans to break ice to prevent ice jams that can lead to flooding on the Kennebec River from Bath to Gardiner during the week of March 30. Those plans have been pushed back a week after Bourbeau said crews have run into difficult conditions breaking ice on the Penobscot River.

On that river, Gregory Stewart, data section chief for the U.S. Geological Survey in Augusta, said ice is still nearly two feet thick in some places with more than a foot of snow atop it. He said the state is seeing “mid-winter ice conditions,” with little slush, putting the threat of ice jam flooding above normal. Stewart said ice measured recently on the Kennebec River in Sidney — a place where water is usually flowing this time of year — often was more than a foot thick.

Two particular risks have been identified on the river: an ice jam in Madison near the confluence with the Carrabassett River that has been there since January and the new Richmond-Dresden bridge in an area that has caused some of the worst ice jam floods in the river’s history, including a massive Augusta-Richmond flood in 1936.

Michael Smith, director of the Somerset County Emergency Management Agency, said the Madison jam is obscured by snow, but he believes there’s little water flow around and that little has changed “considering the way the weather has been.”

In Richmond, the new Maine Kennebec Bridge linking Richmond and Dresden could pose a risk for jams later on. The bridge is 115 feet above the old Richmond-Dresden bridge, which hasn’t been taken down yet. Stewart said those added piers could add to the area’s risk of ice jams.

“We’re just closely monitoring things,” said Richmond Police Chief Scott MacMaster, the town’s emergency management director, “and I don’t think anyone really knows what spring’s going to bring with the new bridge because it’s a new bridge.”

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

[email protected]

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme


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