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Photo by Dean Musser Jr. | File
Aerial view show the city during the flood of mid-March 1982, looking east from Sherman Boulevard and Superior Street.

Sluggish thaw lessens risk of '82-like flood

– This is not 1982.

That's the message officials have for those concerned that the snow on the ground and an expected thaw will mean a repeat of the devastating flood of 1982, which caused so much damage it led to $100 million in levees and flood walls in Fort Wayne. But that flood was caused by a fast snowmelt and heavy rain.

"We're looking at a slow warm-up," said Bob Kennedy, the city's director of Public Works, which oversees flood-fighting efforts. "It should be a slow melt."

The snow currently on the ground – 7 inches Friday afternoon – has already melted somewhat and will continue to do so as the temperatures slowly rise over the next five days. In addition, river levels are extremely low, so there is more room to store runoff. High temperatures are expected to be in the upper 30s Monday and Tuesday and lower 40s on Wednesday.

National Weather Service meteorologist Katie Gross said the snow on the ground is equal to about 2 to 3 inches of rainfall. That could cause flooding if it were to melt all at once, but spread over several days it's not expected to be a problem.

The problem – if there is one – will be caused by rain on top of that snowmelt.

"The concern is heavy rainfall, especially at the end of the week," Gross said. "The rain, in addition to the snow melting, and the ground still being frozen could be a problem."

Even worse, as February continues, it will continue to warm, and continue to rain, Gross said. That has the National Weather Service warning of an increased flood potential from the end of next week through the rest of the month.

"Should a significant rain event occur during this warmer period, the potential for – and the severity of – resultant flooding would greatly increase," the warning said. "The potential for breakup and downstream movement of thick ice on rivers would increase the risk of ice jams to develop and further exacerbate the flooding risk."

Of course, it is only potential risk.

"Future flooding is a possibility at this time – not a certainty," the statement said. "If you live in a flood-prone area, now is the time to prepare for possible flooding."

Officials in Van Wert County, Ohio, point out that with catch basins clogged with snow and ice, flooding can occur in places it doesn't usually occur. Rick McCoy, Van Wert County emergency management director, said snow and ice on roofs is also a major concern: If ice doesn't melt, the combined weight of snow, ice and new rain could cause collapses.

Fort Wayne's Kennedy said weather and river levels are constantly monitored and that the city's high-tech systems now warn officials long before water begins approaching homes and businesses.

"We live the weather down here," Kennedy said. "We've got everything under our fingertips now."