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Last updated: Sat. Feb. 08, 2014 - 12:39 am EDT

Will all this snow become a slow flow or a swift flood?

However quickly it melts, city is better protected against flooding

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In Fort Wayne, piles of snow that start to obstruct motorists’ view in parking lots also start making them wonder about a flood. That’s understandable; the most destructive flood here in the last century happened in 1982, after heavy rain in March melted a deep snow cover quickly.

It could be worse; we’ve had at least one important break in the weather this year. A brief warming spell and rainfall melted the deep snow of Jan. 5 and wiped out the snow that had piled up.

But plenty of snow has piled up since. Snow depth at many locations in northeast Indiana is a foot or more. Some of that snow has been compacted by rainfall and melting but hasn’t necessarily turned into runoff. There’s still a lot of water ready to melt and swell creeks and rivers around here, the equivalent of 2-4 inches of rain in much of northeast Indiana.

How much trouble will that cause?

“It all depends on how it’s melted,” said Bob Kennedy, Fort Wayne’s director of public works. Here’s the best case, according to Kennedy: The snow packed over northeast Indiana dwindles slowly through a series of sunny days in the 30s and 40s, with no help from a heavy rain, thanks. The worst case would be a much warmer day and a heavy rain, perhaps a series of thunderstorms.

But no matter how quickly the snow that’s fallen melts, Fort Wayne is better equipped to weather the results. “We’re in a totally different state now in Fort Wayne,” he said.

Some of the highlights in improved flood protection since the flood of 1982:

*Headwaters Park has replaced several commercial buildings downtown. There’s much less in the “thumb” of the St. Marys River to be damaged in a flood.

*An $8 million widening project along the Maumee River was completed. It built a new channel along several miles of the Maumee River east of Fort Wayne. The aim was to increase the capacity of the river and move water through faster so that it wouldn't rise as far. The widening was among the most contested flood-control measures in recent decades; environmentalists doubted that it would reduce flood crests as much as the projected 1.3 feet.

*The city's most extensive and expensive flood-control project - more than 10 miles of dikes along its three rivers - was completed.

*After serious floods in 2003 and 2005, the city issued a $17 million bond to finance more voluntary buyouts of repeatedly flooded properties, to improve drainage in about 100 trouble spots and to fortify neighborhoods against floods. The biggest of these projects, completed in 2008, built a mile of floodwalls from the edge of Foster Park along the St. Marys River to Airport Expressway.

The near-term forecast doesn’t offer much of a hint about the fate of this snow cover. There’s a strong chance of a light snow, probably not more than an inch of accumulation, this weekend, according to the National Weather Service. So while there won’t be much added to the snow cover already on the ground, there aren’t good prospects for a melt coming soon. The high predicted next week is “near 32” on Thursday, according to the weather service.

bcaylor@news-sentinel.com


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