‘Everybody’s got to be prepared’: Weather experts warn of above normal risk for spring flooding

MADISON, Wis. – The National Weather Service is warning that there’s an above normal risk for flooding in southern Wisconsin this spring.

Sarah Marquardt, a meteorologist with the NWS in Sullivan, said that’s because 2019 was the wettest year on record in Wisconsin, meaning soil is very saturated. In the Madison area, there’s about two inches of water in the snow pack if it were to be melted, which is slightly above average for this time of year.

“Everybody’s got to be prepared,” said Jeff Jelinek, Sauk County’s emergency management director. “Flash flooding can occur anywhere.”

Jelinek said he’s already meeting with weather experts to plan for potential flooding – something residents in Sauk County are quite familiar with.

“It’s truly amazing to see the strength of the people,” he said. “It’s almost every single year they’re going through this.”

This year, Marquardt said that with the amount of moisture in the snow and ground’s inability to soak it up, a melt and spring rain will quickly send water into low-lying areas and rivers.

Assistant State Climatologist Ed Hopkins said some rivers are already high.

“We’ve had a lot of precipitation. In fact, last year was a record for the state in 125 years,” he said. “We have to not only look at local areas like Dane County. Especially for the Wisconsin River, we have to look farther north, almost all the way up to the (upper peninsula) of Michigan … You’re starting to funnel water down.”

Southern Wisconsin has about a foot of snow, while areas in the north have more than two feet.

Hopkins said all the factors are contributing to potential moderate to extreme flooding along the Mississippi River, Wisconsin River and other tributaries this spring.

“Certain areas that have gotten flooded in the past may be flooded again,” he said, adding that that could mean places including Portage, Sauk Prairie and areas along the Rock River, but it will depend on how quickly temperatures rise and how much rain the state gets.

“It’s all up in the air,” Jelinek said. “It’s just a matter of trying to get people prepared.

Jelinek isn’t concerned about flooding in the immediate future. Rather, a small amount of snow melt can be beneficial.

“If we can get a little bit of water out of here, it would help,” he said.

Instead, Jelinek is looking forward to the future, encouraging residents to be prepared come spring.

“Sand bags, think about if you have potential for basement flooding, get things up or elevated or out of there, little things like that,” he said.

Sauk County will be holding flooding preparedness meetings in April throughout the area, with the first being held at the Reedsburg High School on April 4 at 9 a.m. More information will be listed here.