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4 Causes of Winter Flooding and How to Prepare

Updated: Sep 14, 2023

With the official hurricane season over, many are breathing a sigh of relief. It is, however, important to remember there are flood risks all year round. Let’s look at what causes winter flooding and what to do to stay prepared.

Snow Melt

Did you know that 75% of all water sources in some states is the result of melted snow? Snow melt is one of the most common causes of winter flooding. Ten inches of snow is equivalent to 1 inch of rain so when that snow starts melting, especially if it’s melting because of rainfall, it can cause quite a bit of damage. In the winter the ground is also typically frozen and unable to absorb the water, which increases the flood risk. Snowmelt is a common cause of riverine flooding in many areas including along the Mississippi river, the northeast, the northern Midwest and some western areas.

Ice Jams

As ice starts breaking on rivers and starts to move downstream, it can create bottle necks and build ups that cause the water level to rise. If it creates enough of a backup of water, it can escape the banks and cause flooding to nearby homes. Once the jam breaks, the water can rush downstream and cause flash flooding.

Rainy Season in the West

Winter typically means rain in the Western U.S. Pacific storms and atmospheric rivers bring much needed rain to the region but carry with it the risk of flood. A strong atmospheric river can carry an amount of water vapor comparable to 7.5 to 15 times the flow at the mouth of the Mississippi River. When an atmospheric river makes landfall, it releases this water as rain or snow and can stall in an area for days. If there has been recent fire damage to an area it greatly increases the risk of catastrophic flooding and mudslides.

Coastal Areas and Storm Surge

The northeast is famous for their Nor’easters but are not the only place that can be affected from winter storms and the storm surges and coastal flooding that go along with them. The Great Lakes, for example, can experience strong winter storms as well with the wind pushing water towards shore causing tidal flooding and severe erosion.

How to Prepare

That 10 inches of snow we talked about that equals 1 inch of water means about $25,000 worth of damage if it enters your home. One of the best ways to prepare is to know your risk and have a flood insurance policy in place. If you already have a flood policy, now is also a good time to review it to make sure you are familiar with what is covered and that the limits are enough to cover your building and personal belongings. 1st Direct can help! Below are some other ways to protect and prepare your home:

  • Remove snow build up from around your foundation. Remember that 10 inches of snow equals 1 inch of water so if you have snow drifting up against your foundation and it quickly melts, especially with rain, it can affect your foundation and basement.

  • Inspect your basement and foundation walls for cracks and seal them with a waterproof sealant or caulk. Take it one step further and consider using a waterproof sealant on the exterior of the foundation if possible.

  • Make sure your sump pump is in working order and consider adding one if you don’t have one already.

  • Clear window wells and gutters of any debris.

  • Make sure your downspouts are clear of snow and extend at least 2 – 3 feet away from your home.

  • Have a plan that includes an emergency kit, evacuation routes. Keep important papers in a safe, waterproof place.

It is First Direct’s recommendation that any policy related decisions be thoroughly discussed and reviewed with a licensed insurance agent prior to changes or purchases taking effect.

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