The wet winter that brought mudslides and record rains to the Southwest is now threatening spring flooding, forecasters said Thursday. Flooding is also expected in North Dakota, Minnesota and New England.
In the Southwest, “plentiful snowpack combined with wet soils and high stream flows leave this area susceptible to flooding if there is future heavy rain and/or rapid snow melt,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in its spring forecast.
While low reservoir levels will give water managers more options to ease possible flooding, areas stripped of vegetation by fires remain in potential flood danger.
In addition, “Some degree of flooding in the Red River basin — North Dakota-Minnesota — is expected, but at levels unlikely to approach those of the catastrophic flooding in 1997,” the agency said at a briefing Thursday.
And an unusually heavy snowpack combined with thick river ice raises concern about possible flooding in northern New England.
While the wet winter in the Southwest and California eased drought that has hurt the region since 1999, NOAA Administrator Conrad C. Lautenbacher cautioned, “One season of improvement does not bring complete drought relief.”
Reservoirs like Lake Mead and Lake Powell will take several years of above normal rain and snow to restore normal water levels, he said.
And he noted that drought still grips the Northwest. Forecasters said a shift in weather patterns expected by the end of March could bring more moisture to the Northwest, but it is unlikely that significant drought improvement can develop this late in the wet season.
The spring temperature outlook calls for warm conditions in parts of the West, Southwest, mid-Atlantic, Southeast, Alaska and Hawaii, with cooler than normal readings in parts of the western Great Lakes and southern Plains.
The forecast comes as America wraps up its 10th-warmest winter on record, a boon for hard-hit heating budgets.
Winter rain and snowfall were about average nationwide, though serious drought lingered in the Northwest while unusually heavy rains fell in the Southwest.
The National Climatic Data Center reported that the average winter temperature — December through February — was 35.89 degrees Fahrenheit, 2.8 degrees above the 1895-2004 average.
That tied this winter with the winter of 1983 for 10th-warmest on record. The warmest was the winter of 2000 at 36.96 degrees.
The agency said the average in 39 states was above average and the rest were near normal. No state was cooler than average during the winter.
Despite several cold outbreaks in the Northeast, the relatively warm winter season nationwide led to below-normal heating degree days and below-average residential energy demand for the country.
Rain and snowfall for the winter was near average for the nation overall, with unusually dry conditions in the Northwest, parts of the northern Plains and the Southeast countering above average wetness from the Southwest to the Great Lakes and Northeast, NOAA said.
Downtown Los Angeles had 29.1 inches of rain during the winter, exceeding the normal winter rainfall by more than 20 inches.
At the end of winter, moderate to extreme drought affected 72 percent of the Washington, Oregon and Idaho area.