PORTLAND, Maine — Colder-than-normal temperatures projected through month's end are going to prevent ice and snow from melting, causing a greater potential for spring flooding in Maine, officials said Thursday.
The Coast Guard scrapped ice-breaking on the Penobscot River this week because the ice was so thick, underscoring reports of midwinter conditions at a time when melting should be underway.
The River Flow Advisory Commission, which met Thursday at the Maine Emergency Management Agency's offices in Augusta, was warned that heavy rain and a rapid snowmelt next month could cause problems.
"Right now, every week that goes by, I think our flood threat will be increasing," said Tom Hawley, hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Gray. "By the time we get into April, I think we're still going to have quite a bit of snow in the ground and that's kind of worrisome to me."
Heavy rainfall is always the biggest factor when it comes to spring flooding and ice jams on rivers. But the melting snowpack and ice are also big contributors.
Across the state, there's 2 to 4 feet of snow on the ground with the deepest snowpack in the Moosehead and Down East regions, and lakes and ponds are covered by 1 to 3 feet of ice, officials said.
Thick ice stymied the Coast Guard's attempt break ice with three 65-foot vessels this week on the Penobscot River, said Lt. Dan Bourbeau of the U.S. Coast Guard.
The mission was called off after the vessels were only able to move 100 yards per hour. The Coast Guard hopes to return with a 140-foot ice breaker in a week, Bourbeau said.
While there are growing concerns about flooding, state geologist Bob Marvinney said the current outlook doesn't necessarily mean there will be any significant problems.
The snowpack and ice conditions were worse in 2008, but flooding never materialized because there was no heavy rain in April, he said. "It really depends on what happens with precipitation," he said.
The panel will meet again on April 2 to reassess conditions.