Volunteers fill sandbags in preparation for flooding along the Missouri River in St Joseph, Mo., Monday, March 18, 2019.
AccuWeather's 2020 flood risk forecast calls for a substantial decrease in extreme flooding and subsequent damage following a disastrous 2019. An estimated $12.5 billion in total damage and economic loss was caused by record-breaking flooding in the Midwestern U.S. and other hard-hit areas.
AccuWeather's long-range forecast team expects moderate to possibly severe flooding for an area from eastern Texas to the Tennessee Valley. Rainfall, already above normal in several Southern cities, will continue to be above average from the central Gulf coast to parts of the Ohio Valley and central Appalachians during the period during April and May. This includes the areas of the Tennessee Valley, Pearl River Basin and the southern Appalachians and Piedmont.
"We expect the flood risk to continue along the lower Mississippi River and the surrounding areas," said AccuWeather Lead Long-Range Meteorologist Paul Pastelok. "Saturated ground and additional rainfall can lead to areas of flooding into early summer."
Rainfall amounts for the first two full months of 2020 exceeded the average for a number of cities, setting the stage for flooding concerns. Atlanta's rainfall total was 191 percent of normal in January and 219 percent in February, while Birmingham (162 percent in January, 282 percent in February) and Memphis (162 and 139 percent, respectively) also recorded exceptional totals.
"A lot of it is because the Gulf of Mexico has been so juicy and warm," Pastelok said. "It never cooled off this winter. So the waters have been running so warm, and if you still have strong systems in late winter/early spring, that combination just enhances the systems as they come through the Tennessee Valley with heavier rainfall amounts."
Other parts of the country will avoid the 2019-type flooding events because of the milder winter. In 2019, the Mississippi River at Baton Rouge was at or above flood stage for 211 straight days. Last year's flooding along the Mississippi River was largely triggered by excess snowmelt and rainfall over the northern Plains with the Missouri River being the major contributor.
"Snowmelt combined with the rainfall led to the devastating floods we saw last year," Pastelok said. "It's not going to be as bad as last year because you're taking snow out of the equation.
"We do not anticipate ‘extreme' flooding events along the Missouri River, particularly across the western Plains and eastern Rockies," Pastelok said. "However, if more storms continue to move across this area, then we will have to increase the level to a moderate flood event for areas along the Missouri north-central Plains connecting to the Mississippi River."
AccuWeather meteorologists expect flooding at a moderate level in eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota and extending into southern Canada in April and May. "We do feel there will be more snow and the bright spot here is the slow progression of warming, instead of a rapid warmup leading to more intense flooding," Pastelok said.
Other areas to watch are the Northeast where water equivalent amounts are just as high as the Upper Midwest, which is mainly the northern areas of New England, according to Pastelok. Also, a warmup in the early spring could lead to faster snowmelt and some flooding concerns in the Pacific Northwest and west side of the Cascades where snowfall has been heavy mid-season.
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