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Deep snow raises flood worry

Posted: April 4, 2012 - 3:14pm  |  Updated: April 4, 2012 - 3:17pm

The spring breakup flood potential on the Kenai Peninsula currently is rated above average.

“Due to the snowfall we experienced this year, there’s a heightened concern for the potential of flooding, which could occur both on the east and west sides of the Peninsula,” said Eric Mohrmann, Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management director.

Snowpack and projected low temperatures through April cause reasonable concern. Residents along the banks of the Kenai River should prepare for a worst-case scenario, suggests OEM.

The heightened flood potential is based on observed above average snowpack, ice thickness and 90-day temperature forecasts, according to the National Weather Service’s River Forecast Center.

An analysis of the March 1 snowpack by the Natural Resources Conservation Service indicates an above average snowpack across Southern Alaska. Many locations are reporting 150 to 200-plus percent of the normal snow water equivalent, which is the amount of moisture stored within the snow.

That snowpack mixed with the projected low temperatures through spring increases the likelihood of a rapid warming pattern.

“The concern is that if it stays at below normal temperatures through most of April, and it doesn’t cause a lot of (snow) melt-off, a sudden rise in temperatures going into early May would cause flooding,” Mohrmann said.

Douglas Howlett of Soldotna has owned a cabin in the Big Eddy subdivision for 30 years. He recalls water entering his garage a total of three times during that period. Fortunately, his house is elevated by about three feet.

He said there is little to be done in preparation of a flood. He moves his boats and vehicles to his home in downtown Soldotna, the valuables in his garage to the loft and places his refrigerators on concrete blocks.

“But other than that you’re at the mercy of the river,” he said.

Several things can cause flooding along the Kenai River — ice jamming, heavy rain or quickly melting snow, the release of lakes located behind glaciers that feed the watershed — and certain areas are more at risk than others.

The Kenai Keys and Big Eddy subdivisions, the Cooper Landing area and other low-lying areas are at risk, Mohrmann said. These areas frequently have encountered issues with local flooding.

He listed many of the Peninsula’s past floods. In January 2007, ice jamming and flooding scoured the banks of the Kenai River. The cost of property damage was estimated at $6 million. Then-KPB Mayor John Williams declared it a disaster emergency.

Longtime residents will recall 1969, when ice jams backed up the water to its highest recorded level at 22.69 feet in Soldotna.

In 1995, 16 to 18 inches of water flooded Howlett’s garage, he said.

Water starts to flow over some of the roads in the Kenai Keys subdivision at 12 feet. It starts to flow into garages and cabins in the subdivision at 13.5 feet. There also are problems in the Big Eddy subdivision at this level, according to the National Weather Service.

“It’s frequently fall conditions when flooding happens; not to say it can’t happen in the spring,” Mohrmann said.

Earlier this winter, an ice jam caused water to flow over Big Eddy Road for a short time.

The numerous smaller rivers and streams on the Peninsula — Anchor River, Resurrection River, Clear Creek, Salmon Creek — also are at high risk of flooding.

OEM works to inform the public of potential floods and partners with the Alaska Department of Transportation to ensure emergency services are prepared to respond. It is recommended residents anchor down their fuel tanks and mark the tanks with their name, because a flood potentially could carry it downstream.

Families should prepare emergency plans and emergency kits.

“Floods do and have cut people off from any kind of assistance,” Mohrmann said.  

Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at jerzy.shedlock@peninsulaclarion.com.

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