Snow studies and flooding, what gives?

Snow isn’t always thought of when we think of flooding, that is until spring rolls around. A new project coordinated by the National Weather Service and NDSU scientists is engaging citizens and students in flood research. This research is timely as the NWS has issued a preliminatry warning for a record fourth straight year of flooding for the spring of 2012.
Of course everyone understands that the more snow we have in the winter, the more water we’ll have on the ground in spring. But it’s not quite that straight forward. Snow falls have different percentages of water in them, thus the term ‘wet snow’ and ‘dry snow.’ This moisture content can actually be measured and its called ‘snow water equivalency.’ This is one of the parameters scientists are hoping to collect information on using volunteers.
Another factor in how much water stays on the land in spring is frost depth. Related to snow depth, frost depth can vary from zero frost in areas that are well insulated with snow and vegetation to several feet of frost. If the ground is frozen, very little water is going to infiltrate (sink in) into the soil in spring. Knowing where and how fast (infiltration rates) snow melt will be absorbed can help scientists understand spring runoff patterns, and perhaps, get a better grasp on flood patterns.
NDSU and River Watch are working with schools and individuals to set up monitoring sites for this upcoming winter. For more information on this project contact Wayne Goeken at