Reducing Winter Flood Risks and Ice Melts

January 13, 2014

The cold winter weather that has descended across Canada and the northeast and mid-western U.S has broken many yearly records for intensity. The polar vortex of sub zero arctic air left much of Canada and the northeast U.S frozen. The temperatures, however, are beginning to rise steadily and with that rise comes ice melt and the risk of flooding. Over the past month or so, Canada and the U.S have experienced sustained negative double digit temperatures causing massive freezes and snow accumulation. While urban ice melt is not a great flood risk in itself, frozen rivers and waterways pose a serious flash flood risk to communities. While substantial drops in temperature are unlikely, ice will begin to melt rapidly from waterways and, once this happens, flooding can quickly occur.

During the cold of the winter, flooding is often overlooked as a common disaster, but drastic temperature changes after a prolonged cold spell can create flood conditions. Depending on your specific location, floods may or may not be a serious risk. Low lying floodplains and communities near major waterways are always at risk, however, even during the winter. As temperatures fluctuate you should take measures to prepare for potential flooding and always know what to do in the event of a flash flood.

The best ways to mitigate the risks of flood damage involve preparing your home and planning a response to rising waters. This often includes clearing drains, downspouts, and gutters of leaves or debris so that water can run freely through them. Make sure drains are clear and running smoothly. You should also be prepared to quickly address water accumulation by knowing when to shut off power at the main breaker, relocate electronics and furniture off the floor–in particular out of basements, and elevating appliances on blocks off the floor to avoid water damage.

Basically, you want to remove and relocate anything that will be damaged by water accumulation–furniture, rugs, appliances, and electronics. Additionally, you want to prepare for an possible evacuation from your home by gathering important documents, papers, and other valuables and storing them in a safe, portable place. If the flooding became bad enough and you were forced from home, you want to be able to gather important items and leave quickly. Its also a good idea to keep a portable emergency preparedness kit with survival essentials in the event of displacement.

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