This spring, Wisconsin is facing a higher chance of flooding than usual thanks to a frozen snowpack and soil still saturated with water from last fall.
Columbia County Emergency Management Coordinator Kathy Johnson said the saturated soil and frozen ground from this winter’s extreme cold means any rainfall and melting snow will just run off. Officials will be “watching that very closely” this week with rain expected on Wednesday and Thursday.
“Normally we don’t have to worry about this stuff in March, this early in March,” she said. “Normally it’s when it really starts melting a little bit later on.”
According to the National Weather Service on Saturday, the Baraboo River at West Baraboo has a 50-75 percent chance of reaching flood stage — which starts when the water rises to 9 feet — by late March. There’s a 25-50 percent chance that it will reach moderate flooding by that time, and a lower chance of major flooding, measured at 12.5 feet or higher. Flooding remains highly probable through the first week of April before gradually lowering.
Rock Springs is more likely to see the river reach moderate or major flooding than Baraboo, with a greater than 90 percent chance of moderate flooding by the first week of April and greater than 50 percent chance of major flooding between now and May.
Portage also has a higher than 50 percent chance of major flooding this spring.
But residents can take steps to mitigate their risk of water damage or improve the situation if it happens.
Chad Berginnis, director of the Association of Floodplain Managers headquartered in Madison, recommends that everyone — from homeowners to renters to business owners — buy flood insurance as soon as possible. There’s usually a 30-day waiting period for such coverage, so buying when water is already seeping into the basement is too late, he said.
And it can be relatively inexpensive, depending on your location. Most flood insurance is part of the National Flood Insurance Program and will meet certain requirements, but if it’s a private policy, Johnson recommends reading it closely and checking for excessive deductibles. Older homes could benefit from adding an endorsement for sewer backup coverage, he added.
“The easiest step for anybody to do ... is to buy a flood insurance policy,” he said, noting that “one of the biggest misperceptions” is that only those in official flood zones are susceptible to rising water.
Renters should ask their landlord if the building is flood prone, Johnson said, or ask their local floodplain manager about their flood risk. Ingrid Wadsworth is a floodplain manager for Baraboo and Brian Duvalle and Matthew Filus for Reedsburg, according to the association’s website. Neighbors could also provide information for residents who are new to the area.
Johnson said anyone who lives in an area prone to flooding should start preparing early by getting sandbags, moving items off the basement floor and possibly building a dike with snow around their house to divert water — though she noted that may not work in all cases. Sandbags shouldn’t be placed outside too early, however, or the sand could freeze, reducing its effectiveness.
She also recommends reaching out to people who are new to the area to inform them of the possibility of flooding.
“I guess the biggest thing is just be prepared and be vigilant,” Johnson said.
If water starts to rise, Columbia County Emergency Management will post information on its website to inform residents of available resources. The sheriff’s office will also post the information to Facebook, Johnson said.
Information on sandbags and how to best use them is available on the Sauk County Emergency Management website.
And of course, if drivers come across a flooded roadway, “turn around, don’t drown,” Berginnis said.