At Issue: Water issues this spring - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

At Issue: Water issues this spring

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Lately all it seems like people are talking about is how cold it is. But is this winter really that unusual, and what does this lower snowfall mean for our spring? That's At Issue, and Cat Viglienzoni talked with National Weather Service Hydrologist Greg Hanson about the bigger picture.

Reporter: Talk a little bit about the temperatures we've had and what that means for us longer-term.

Hanson: We've been in a very cold pattern, as everyone knows, and that's creating a lot of ice in the rivers. We've had a couple episodes where we warmed up during the winter -- one right before Christmas and one just about a couple of weeks ago now and that broke up some of the river ice but it also created ice jams that have re-frozen in place now. So the effect of the colder temperatures we have is that we have a lot more river ice, very thick ice, so that's going to be a concern going into spring.

Reporter: And with the ice jams -- we've already seen a couple, like you mentioned, are they going to get bigger, or is it just going to be something that we have to keep an eye on?

Hanson: So the concern of the jams that are in place now -- they'll be okay as long as we're steady flow and water can find a way through but when we get into another ice breakup episode, that's when those can cause us problems.

Reporter: Are there specific rivers we're watching right now?

Hanson: All of them. The melt we had a couple of weeks ago seems to have cleared out a lot of the ice on the smaller creeks and streams. The mainstem rivers -- Missisquoi, Lamoille, Winooski, have quite a bit of -- some areas have cleared out but others have quite a bit of ice in them. Also on the New York side, Saranac and the Great Chazy in our listening area and in the Champlain Valley are going to be the ones that cause us some interest in the spring. But as cold as it's been recently, even those rivers and sections that have cleared of ice are going to be refreezing and get quite a bit of ice cover again.

Reporter: And is this normal? Do we see this every once in a while? Or has this kind-of been a really weird year?

Hanson: It used to be normal. We used to get this cold all the time. It's normal for us to freeze down and then thaw up again. You know there's the term January thaw, so it happens often enough that we've given it a name. So it's not uncommon.

Reporter: Talk a little bit about the snow pack. We haven't heard great things so far this winter yet. Is that a concern also, long-term?

Hanson: Actually, for my job, from the rivers standpoint, it's not a bad thing. It reduces the spring flood threat. We have less snow, less of a reservoir of liquid water up in the snow pack that will melt in the spring and come on down. In 2011 when we had all of the flooding, we didn't have a January thaw and we carried a lot of snow into spring. So from a snow melt standpoint, it's good to get rid of a little bit and add a bit more as we go on. But right now the low snow pack is for a spring flood potential. What we've seen this winter is with a thin snowpack here at the airport anyway, the cold temperatures have been able to penetrate into the ground. Whenever we get six inches of snow on the ground, that's a nice insulator, so we're seeing ground frost getting in there, so I think for the spring, for the mud season, there's going to be quite a bit of frost that's going to have to come out of the ground, so we could have a sloppy spring.

Of course winter isn't over yet by any means, so Hanson says that things could change if we get a lot of snowfall in the next couple months, which would change the snowpack.

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