ESCANABA - Some may believe the effects of a rash of severe weather that left schools closed across the Upper Peninsula is over, but rising temperatures and melting snow could still cause problems for local residents.
"I think the critical issue we'll need to be watching in coming weeks is if we get any big rain storms because that significantly increases the risk of flooding," said Meteorologist Don Rolfson of the National Weather Service's Marquette office.
According to the Escanaba Water Plant, which records annual snowfall totals, 62.30 inches fell between the season's first snowfall and the end of March. National Weather Service reporting sites in the Gladstone area are reporting between 15 and 20 inches of snowpack.
"The snow cover right now is fairly high especially compared to recent years," said Rolfson.
The snowfall for the year is 39.92 inches more than last year's total of 22.38 inches. However, the 2011-12 season was the driest season on record since 1991. Average annual snowfalls between the 1991-92 winter season and the 2011-12 season produced 54.23 inches of snow.
Snowfall was below average this year until mid-January in the Upper Peninsula when Pacific winds shifted, temperatures dropped, and a string of low pressure systems made their way across the area.
The collection of atmospheric and temperature changes caused a series of winter storms that resulted in above normal precipitation and snowfall in the second half of the season. This pushed the yearly total above average.
While the amount of snow fall Escanaba received this year may be above average, it is not uncommon for snowfall totals to be upwards of 70 inches in the area. Ninety inches of snow was reported during the 1995-96 winter - a season noted for being particularly cold in the U.P. April temperatures in 1996 were five or more degrees below normal on average.
"The longer we go into April without reducing the snow cover we run the risk of a rapid snow melt," noted Rolfson.
This year, the first one to two weeks of April temperatures are predicted to be below normal, and - while there may be some snow showers - there are no significant rain or snow storms expected in our area.
According to Rolfson, the ideal way for snowpack to melt is by melting during the day and refreezing at night. This prevents the snow from melting too quickly and limits the risk of flooding.
Major snow-related flooding has not been a serious concern since 2002, when a deep snow fall in early April coupled with heavy rains and unseasonably high temperatures caused flooding across the U.P. Gogebic County was particularly hard hit by the flooding and was declared a disaster area.