State remains under flood watch, ice jam reported in St. John River

Ice jams in the St. John River near Allagash.
Sue Underhill Kelly photo
Ice jams in the St. John River near Allagash.
By Julia Bayly, BDN Staff
Posted April 15, 2014, at 10:10 a.m.

FORT KENT, Maine — While some roads already were shut down in Aroostook County on Tuesday afternoon due to rising water levels, a flood watch remained in effect throughout Maine into late Wednesday.

Rain and runoff from melting snow caused increased stream flows in smaller rivers and streams across the state Tuesday, but Maine’s larger rivers weren’t expected to rise and crest until Wednesday.

Ice jams on the Aroostook River in Caribou, Washburn, Mapleton, Presque Isle, Easton and Fort Fairfield forced water over and closed portions of several roads, according to information released by the Aroostook Emergency Management Agency on Tuesday afternoon.

By late Tuesday evening, the Route 1 bridge across the Aroostook River in Fort Fairfield was closed due to moving ice. Route 1 was also closed in Bridgewater.

An ice jam was reported by residents Tuesday morning in the St. John River near Cross Rock at the Allagash-St. Francis town line, and water was rising behind it.

“Ice jam flooding potential is a concern in the north and small river and stream flooding is possible in all areas,” according to information released online Tuesday by the Maine River Flow Advisory Commission. “Those in flood-prone areas should monitor local conditions and weather forecasts closely over the next 48 hours.”

The National Weather Service in Caribou issued a flood warning for the Big Black River in northwest Aroostook County from Tuesday evening into Wednesday.

At 11:15 a.m. Tuesday, the river was at 10.5 feet, 1.5 feet below flood stage, but it was expected to rise above 12 feet and crest at 13 feet after midnight.

In Houlton, a resident on Green Street adjacent to Pierce Brook left her home Tuesday because of rising water levels.

Catalina Road in Hodgdon also had areas that were flooded.

Across the border in New Brunswick, the Meduxnekeag River just northeast of Houlton rose rapidly above flood stage near Red Bridge on Monday evening, according to Woodstock Fire Chief Rick Nicholson. Red Bridge is on the outskirts of Woodstock.

Members of one family were forced out of their home because of the fast-rising waters, which rose more than 2 feet in under an hour behind an ice jam in the Meduxnekeag, Nicholson said Tuesday afternoon.

Several cattle and calves were evacuated, but no injuries were reported, the chief said. He added that two area roads were closed and members of his department were conducting safety checks Tuesday afternoon on area residents.

The river flow advisory commission hosted a conference call meeting Monday to hear flood-related information from the U.S. Geological Survey, Maine Geological Survey, river basin managers and the National Weather Service.

According to the National Weather Service in Gray, the combination of rapid snow melt and rainfall will keep rivers running high through midweek. There is also a threat of ice jam flooding in the mountains and ice has been moving on the Carrabassett and Sandy rivers. Rainfall is expected to be 1-2 inches, with the most falling in the upslope areas of the western Maine mountains.

Joyce’s Restaurant on Front Street in Hallowell was preparing to turn off the gas and close down Tuesday afternoon as the Kennebec River was expected to rise 20 to 24 feet above average. According to a Hallowell Police Department dispatcher, police expected to close Front Street to traffic when the river crested.

“When it hits 24 feet, it will definitely go over Front Street, and possibly onto Water Street,” she said.

Patti Burnett, owner of Dom’s Barber Shop on Water Street, keeps her heating unit on 4-foot cinder blocks so she’s able to move it easily each year when the river rises.

“They’re expecting a 20-foot crest,” she said late Tuesday afternoon. “Probably tomorrow, I’ll have to call the furnace man to have him move the heater.”

The National Weather Service in Caribou reported that snow melt and rising river levels Tuesday could cause ice to move and possibly jam and moderate to heavy rain would keep river levels and the threat of ice jam flooding high through Wednesday.

Ice in the northern rivers is still quite thick and strong, increasing the risk of ice jams as the rivers rise and the ice moves, according to the commission’s released information.

According to the Maine Geological Survey, last week’s cooperative snow survey showed the snowpack water content in all of Maine to be well above normal for the time of year.

The rain started spreading across the state Tuesday morning, moving west to east. Monday’s above-normal temperatures carried into Tuesday, but lower temperatures will come in behind the storm. Cooler weather through the rest of the week will moderate the runoff once the rain has ended.

BDN writer Beth Brogan contributed to this report.

http://bangordailynews.com/2014/04/15/outdoors/state-remains-under-flood-watch-ice-jam-reported-in-st-john-river/ printed on October 1, 2014