Will Winter’s Wicked Weather Foster Arkansas River Flooding this Spring?

Southwestern Kansas is now experiencing heightened awareness concerning significant flows along the Arkansas RIver this spring. The rain, snow and ice events of December 19-20, 2006 and especially December 28-31, 2006 deposited copious quantities of rain/ice/snow onto the High Plains of southwestern Kansas and southeastern Colorado.  In order to graphically display this information, NOAA’s National Operational Hydrologic and Remote Sensing Center (NOHRSC) produces daily web graphics estimating the amount of water contained in the snowpack utilizing snow models adjusted with real-time data.  For the areas of southeastern Colorado along the Arkansas River between John Martin Reservoir and the Kansas state line, current best estimates of the liquid water equivalent contained in the snowpack range from 300,000 to 400,000 acre-feet of water. 

Southwestern Kansas and southeastern Colorado soils are quite saturated for this time of year.  Consequently, more runoff than normal should be expected this spring from snowmelt.  Cooler than normal temperatures and lack of rainfall in southeastern Colorado would retard the rate of runoff into the Arkansas River, while higher than normal temperatures and additional spring rainfall on the current snowpack would accelerate the snowmelt/icemelt and subsequent runoff.

Is an Arkansas River flood of 1965 proportions possible in western Kansas this spring?   If all the above-referenced moisture was released in a 24-hour period, a flood of that magnitude would be possible, but is extremely unlikely.  For stream basins lying below John Martin Reservoir, the best scenario of events would include a several week period of slow melting and runoff from the snowpack.  This would create significant flows along the Arkansas River in western Kansas but not create catastrophic flooding. 

All National Weather Service (NWS) offices issue Spring Flood Outlooks.  This year, NWS DodgeCity will issue its Spring Flood Outlook for southwest Kansas on February 23rd and March 9th.   We will be keeping the public and area emergency management agencies informed of hydrologic conditions as we move into the spring snowmelt season.  River stage graphics for forecast points along the Arkansas River and the other major rivers in southwest Kansas can be found on our web page at:


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