PITTSFIELD (AP) – As snow continues to pile up across Maine, officials are monitoring snow and water levels with an eye toward spring flooding.

The conditions now show that Maine is in the upper 25 percent of historical snowpack levels, and that the snow has between 4 and 10 inches of water in it, said John Peckingham of the Sen. George J. Mitchell Center for Environmental and Watershed Research at the University of Maine.

“This definitely means we keep our eyes on it,” he said, adding that the weather watch will “get more interesting as we get into March.”

For Robert Higgins, emergency management director for Somerset County, the conditions bring back memories to the April 1 floods of 1987. “It has not left my mind,” he said.

That year, a 2-foot deep snowpack was ripe with 5 to 8 inches of water when a southern wind brought 8 inches of rain to Maine’s mountains. The result was massive flooding that damaged more than 2,100 homes, 400 small business and 100 small dams. Total losses exceeded $10 million.

Higgins is one of a dozen officials who regularly monitor river water levels, snowpack levels and water retention. Many of the river flow monitors will meet in early March to discuss spring flooding possibilities, although Higgins said it is too early to tell now, even with the heavy snowfall amounts Maine has received this winter.

“The ground is already holding water,” Higgins said. “It has already been a real strange winter and it can change and deteriorate quickly.”

Water content normal or above

The water content in the Maine snowpack was normal or above normal in the latest report on the Maine Cooperative Snow Survey Web site, on Jan. 23.

The snow survey is jointly run Maine Department of Conservation, the Maine Geological Survey and the U.S. Geological Survey Water Science Center.

The chances of flooding in the spring depend on many variables, Higgins said.

“It will depend on how much heavy rain we get on top of a wet, April snowpack,” he said. “I will be less apprehensive if we have a slow, gradual warm-up and melt.”

Maine has been hit by both heavy snows and heavy rains this week.

Portland on Wednesday received more than 2.5 inches of rain after getting 7.5 inches of snow. Bangor got 1.6 inches on top of 4.5 inches of snow.

Caribou set a record for the date for most snow and most rain, when it got 8.1 inches of snow followed by 0.85 inches of rain.


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