SPRING FLOOD OUTLOOK
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE
MISSOURI BASIN RIVER FORECAST CENTER
PLEASANT HILL, MO
FEB 12, 2020
NARRATIVE PART 1 OF 1
ATTN WFO'S SERVED BY MBRFC.
This Spring Flood Outlook is not for public release until Thursday,
13 February 2020.
This Spring Outlook is for the Missouri River drainage which includes
rivers in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, North and South Dakota,
Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota, and Missouri.
SPRING FLOOD OUTLOOK
Flood risk this Spring is divided east to west within the Missouri
River basin. Spring flood risk is near normal to slightly above
normal in the west, including Montana, Wyoming, and the western
portions of the Dakotas. Flood risk in the eastern portion of the
Missouri River basin is above normal to well above normal, including
the eastern Dakotas, eastern Nebraska, western Iowa, eastern Kansas
and across the state of Missouri.
A normal risk indicates that a location that typically experiences
Spring time flooding may flood again this year. A normal risk for
flooding does not necessarily mean that a location will flood,
however. For those locations which do not typically experience
flooding, a normal risk simply indicates that flooding is again not
expected this year. By the same token, a reduced risk of flooding
does not necessarily mean that flooding is not expected. An
increased risk does not necessarily indicate flooding is likely.
Mountain snowpack overall is slightly above normal. The Milk River
basin, the upper Missouri River basin above Ft. Peck, the Yellowstone
River basin, and both the North and South Platte River basins all
have slightly above normal mountain snowpack this year. However,
widespread, significant flooding in the mountainous west is not
likely due to mountain snowmelt alone. Water supply forecasts
issued in early February by the National Weather Service project
normal to slightly above normal April-September runoff volumes
for the mountainous west.
Although plains snowpack is widespread across the northern tier of
states, and Iowa, for the most part the water equivalents are low.
The exception to this is in the eastern Dakotas, where a healthy
snowpack has developed.
Mild temperatures so far have limited the extent of frozen ground
spatially and vertically. Frozen ground may not be a significant
factor in runoff production this runoff year.
Mild temperatures have also mitigated the ice jam break-up flood
threat for much of the Missouri River basin. Although rivers were
running higher than normal prior to winter freeze-up, the
warmer-than-normal temperatures have prevented significant ice
thickness growth on northern rivers. So far this season, freeze-up
ice jams have been reported along the Elkhorn, Platte, North Platte,
and Middle Loup Rivers in Nebraska, along Spring Creek and on the
Missouri River in Montana, along the Missouri River in North Dakota,
and on the Big Sioux in South Dakota. However, impacts due to these
jams were relatively minor and localized in extent. While the
public should remain vigilant for the possibility of new ice jam
formation should a period of deep cold occur, overall the risk for
ice jam break-up flooding this year is thought to be near, to
perhaps below normal for the basin.
2019 was the 3rd wettest year for the basin on record, outmatched
only by 1993 and 1915. As a result, the majority of the Missouri
River basin has wetter-than-normal soils.
Springtime flooding in the lower one-third of the basin, including
southern Iowa, eastern Kansas, and the state of Missouri, is driven
by typical thunderstorm activity. Flooding is projected to occur
again this Spring in this region of the basin.
The following state by state flood potential discussions are based
on long-range river outlooks developed this week.
Minor flooding is expected along Pipestem Creek in North Dakota.
Moderate level flooding is likely along the James River.
Minor flooding is projected to occur along Skunk and Firesteel Creeks
in South Dakota. The White and Cheyenne Rivers are also projected to
experience minor flooding. Moderate level flooding is likely along
the Elm River, Turtle Creek, Split Rock Creek, and the Vermillion
River. Major flooding is likely along Big Sioux and James Rivers
this spring and early summer. As of 12 February 2020, the James
River has been in flood for 335 consecutive days.
Minor flooding is expected along Lincoln and Shell Creeks in
Nebraska. Minor flooding is also projected along the Big Blue,
North Fork Elkhorn, and Platte Rivers. The Platte River at
North Bend bears watching this Spring as well while levee repair
work continues. Moderate level flooding is projected for Wahoo
In Iowa, the Floyd, Rock, and Ocheyedan Rivers are likely to see
minor flooding. The Little Sioux and Big Sioux Rivers are projected
to experence major flooding this year.
Kansas streams likely to experience minor flooding this Spring
include the Little Blue, Big Blue, Black Vermillion, Vermillion, and
Marais des Cygnes Rivers. The Little Osage River and Stranger Creek
are both expected to see moderate level flooding.
In the state of Missouri, the Chariton, Moreau, Big Piney,
Gasconade, and Osage Rivers are projected to experience minor level
flooding. Moniteau and Petite Saline Creeks will also likely see
minor flooding. The Grand, Crooked, Blackwater, Lamine, Little
Osage, Marmaton, Sac, South Grand, Tarkio, and Platte Rivers
are expected to see moderate level flooding, as does Wakenda Creek.
The Missouri River itself below Gavins Point is also projected to
experience flooding this Spring and early Summer. Minor flooding
is expected in the Omaha and Kansas City reaches, while much of
the remainder of the Missouri River is expected to experience
moderate level flooding. As we move later into the season, major
level flooding downstream of Kansas City cannot be ruled out. Many
of the levees along the Missouri River downstream of Gavins Point
have yet to be fully restored after the 2019 flood. Although the
National Weather Service is in continual communication with other
federal agencies with regard to current stage-flow relationships,
river stage forecasts this coming year have a high degree of
uncertainty due to the current state of the channel and overbank
These projections of river stages are based on current observed
states of streamflow, soil moisture, and snowpack, coupled with
future precipitation and temperature patterns and anticipated
operational hydrologic changes such as reservoir releases and canal
diversions. "Outlooks" are provided for long-range (weeks to months)
projections based on climatological patterns of precipitation and
temperature. "Forecasts" are provided for short-term (days)
projections based on forecast patterns of precipitation and
temperature. The uncertainty of these products varies from
season to season and location to location. The uncertainty of
forecasts tend be less than the uncertainty of outlooks due to
their shorter lead time.
Users of these products are encouraged to contact their nearest
National Weather Service Forecast Office for continued updates of
meteorological conditions which can have significant impacts on
flood preparedness planning and flood fighting activities.
For additional quantitative information please refer to AHPS products
for probabilistic outlooks of potential flooding. Refer to short-term
flood forecasts and products, if any are currently issued, for
information about ongoing or near-term anticipated flooding.
The next Spring Outlook is scheduled for release on February 27th.
Additional river information, including the monthly Water Supply
Outlook, can be accessed at the following URL:
Current Snow Conditions
The conditions listed below are based on observations and model
data as of Wednesday morning, February 12th.
Montana and Wyoming Plains
Snow depths of 2-4 inches are being reported in the plains of
Montana and Wyoming. Water equivalents are generally less than
half an inch.
There is very little snow being reported in the plains of Colorado.
Snow depths are less than 2 inches with water equivalents generally
less than half an inch.
Snowpack conditions in the mountainous areas of the basin are generally
near to above normal. In Montana, the Jefferson, Musselshell,
Missouri headwaters, Sun, Teton, and Marais River basins are
reporting a near to above normal snowpack (90-125%). The St. Mary and Milk
basins are reporting an above normal snowpack (110-130%).
In Wyoming, the Tongue, Bighorn, Powder, Wind, and Yellowstone River
basins are reporting a near to above normal snowpack (90-130%). The higher
elevations of the North Platte River basin are reporting a near
to above normal snowpack (100-120%). In Colorado, the higher elevations of
the South Platte River basin are also reporting a near to above normal
The eastern portion of North Dakota has snow depths in the
7-10 inch range and water equivalents in the 1-4 inch range.
The western portion of the state has minor snow depths generally
less than 2 inches and water equivalents less than half an inch.
The Black Hills in South Dakota have 12-24 inches of snow depth
with water equivalents in the 3-6 inch range. Elsewhere across
South Dakota, there is a wide range of snow depths. The northeastern
portion of the state is reporting 10-15 inches of snow with
water equivalents in the 2-4 inch range. Snow depths across the
southeastern portion of South Dakota are generally less than 10 inches
with water equivalents less than 3 inches. The remainder of the
state has minor snow depths generally less than 4 inches and water
equivelants less than 1 inch.
Snow depths of 4-10 inches are being reported across extreme northwestern
Iowa with water equivalents in the 1-2 inch range. The rest of western
Iowa has less than 2 inches of snow with water equivalents generally less than
half an inch.
Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri
Little or no snow is being reported across Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri.
Current Soil Moisture Conditions
The US Drought Monitor indicates much of the Missouri River basin
is experiencing near to above soil conditions. Abnormally dry conditions
are indicated across eastern Colorado. A couple of small abnormally dry
areas are also indicated in north-central Wyoming and northwestern Montana.
Isolated frost depth reports suggest that soils across Montana, Wyoming,
South Dakota, and North Dakota have frost penetration ranging from 1-2.5 feet.
Frost depths of less than 1 foot are being reported across Nebraska, Iowa,
Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri.
Current River Conditions
The majority of the rivers in the northern one-third of the basin are
iced over. Generally, river levels in this portion of the basin are
currently running near to above normal, or estimated to be so if the
rivers are frozen. In the southern two-thirds of the basin, rivers are also
running near to above normal with the exception of eastern Colorado and
extreme western Kansas where flows are below historical medians.
A summary of river flow conditions at selected river stations for
February 12th follows:
Long Term Current
Mean (CFS) (CFS)
James River - Huron, SD 58 2225 (EST)
Big Sioux River - Akron, IA 165 1830 (EST)
Platte River - Louisville, NE 6100 11400 (EST)
Kansas River - Desoto, KS 2540 5900
Gasconade River - Jerome, MO 1540 4760
Missouri River - Omaha, NE 18900 45200
Missouri River - Rulo, NE 26100 61200
Missouri River - St. Joseph, MO 28200 66000
Missouri River - Waverly, MO 35100 75600
Missouri River - Hermann, MO 50400 130000