June 25, 2018
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Maine emergency officials brace for possible flooding this weekend

Eric Zelz | BDN
Eric Zelz | BDN
By Eric Russell, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — With warmer weather and rain expected to hit Maine this weekend, emergency officials are warning about potential flooding, particularly in urban centers.

The state’s River Flow Advisory Commission met Thursday in Augusta to review current hydrologic conditions across the state and short-term weather forecasts. Those data will be used to assess flood threats.

“We’ll be watching this weekend storm closely,” said Rob McAleer, director of the Maine Emergency Management Agency. “Too much rain and a rapid warm-up could create problems for us, even though the snowpack can absorb a good deal of rain. Residents and business owners should also monitor local conditions closely.”

Bob Johnston with the Maine Geological Survey and several other spotters spent the first part of this week testing 177 sites throughout Maine. The season’s first test was done in early January and subsequent tests were done in early February and now early March. After this week, tests will be done every week until the snow is gone.

Johnston called current conditions “uniformly moderate.”

“With the right conditions, snow can melt quite quickly,” he said. “Areas that could see the biggest impact are cities that have a lot of storm drains covered by snowbanks. The melting water needs somewhere to go.”

The statewide average snowpack is about 24 inches, Johnston said, and 6 to 9 inches of that is water. That means most of the snowpack could absorb some rain, although water content is higher in south-central Maine and Hancock and Washington counties.

In addition to snow on the ground, homeowners are urged to keep an eye on snow levels on their roofs because rain could saturate that snow and make it much heavier.

The late winter-early spring season in Maine always brings with it the potential for flooding, but it’s never a sure thing. Even if there is bigger-than-average snowpack, if it melts gradually, there are few problems, experts said.

“People like to say that [the] three major causes of flooding are rain, rain and more rain,” MEMA spokeswoman Lynette Miller said.

The National Weather Service is monitoring a storm system that could bring significant rainfall this weekend to central and southern Maine. The rain could cause some stream or river flooding but also could move river ice and cause ice jams.

The U.S. Coast Guard has been breaking up ice in the Penobscot and Kennebec rivers and will continue that schedule.

Tom Robertson, emergency management director for Penobscot County, said most of the ice in the Penobscot River has been broken up, but there are always areas of concern.

“We have an area in Grindstone, a stretch of Route 2 in Milford and Route 178 in Bradley — pretty much anyplace where the road is close to the water,” he said.

Some parts of Maine, including Hancock and Washington counties, experienced flooding in December due to heavy rainfall.

Home and business owners who live or work in flood-prone areas should take precautions if they haven’t done so already, MEMA director McAleer said.

“Most home and business owners policies do not cover flood damage. And there is a 30-day waiting period before a new policy goes into effect,” he said. “The time to check your insurance is now.”

Added Johnston: “If I lived in a low-lying area and a I had a storm drain, I would make sure it was uncovered.”

MEMA spokesman Miller said sometimes smaller rivers and streams are more problematic than the major waterways.

More information about conditions throughout the state is available online at: maine.gov/rfac

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