The James River has been above flood stage for more than 350 days and there are no signs the water will recede to normal levels any time soon. That was the message Aberdeen city officials, local National Weather Service forecasters and emergency managers from more than a half dozen counties heard during the third annual Integrated Weather Team (IWT) meeting held on February 27.
Julie Meyer, a senior hydrologist for the Missouri Basin River Forecast Center in Kansas City, Missouri, said the James River at Columbia and Stratford will remain at flood stage well into the spring.
“I do not expect these two locations to be below flood stage before the 2020 snowmelt kicks off,” Meyer told the group via a video presentation during the IWT meeting hosted by the National Weather Service office in Aberdeen.
Meyer even said the James River is so full of water, and the flow of the river is so slow, that it will likely remain above flood stage into the fall of 2020 even if northeast South Dakota experiences a dry spring and summer.
“It’s going to be ugly, but less rain is better,” Meyer told the group gathered at the K.O. Lee Library in downtown Aberdeen.
Meyer was just one of the presenters for the third annual meeting of the IWT. The IWT is a collection of emergency managers, National Weather Service forecasters, local county and city officials, and private sector organizations, such as Northern Electric Cooperative, who gather once a year to discuss weather events, reporting, and response. The goal of the one-day workshop is to discuss best practices to improve communications with the public before, during and after high-impact weather events. The morning session focused on snowfall forecasting and the afternoon session focused on the flooding risk for northeast South Dakota.
Mike Gillispie, the National Weather Service Hydrologist for Eastern South Dakota, also presented to the group via video conference. Gillispie said soil moisture is at the highest level it has ever been in eastern South Dakota heading into the spring.
“We’re starting out (the spring) in really bad shape,” Gillispie said.
However, Gillispie offered a bit of good news. He said the snowpack is ‘not terrible’ across eastern South Dakota as the spring melt begins.
Attendees say the snapshot of the current flooding situation and meeting with officials and forecasters from across the region is beneficial.
“We are always gathering new information from all types of sources,” Brown County Assistant Emergency Management Director Patti Woods said. “Meeting with other local agencies along with our state partners is a benefit to understanding what we are doing to prepare and also understanding what resources we have.”
And the annual IWT meeting is just one more resource to ensure officials can prepare, communicate, and respond to weather events when they impact the area.