River Watch Team says low risk for ice jam flooding

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CIRCLE, Alaska The River Watch Team - A pilot, hydrologist and two state emergency operation representatives with their eyes on the river.

"We're flying the upper Yukon from the border with Canada all the way down to Fort Yukon to take a look at the river and ice conditions to give some advance warning and early notification to folks if there's any potential threat," said Claude Denver, Response Manager for the Alaska Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Along the way, they stop at villages such as Circle and Fort Yukon to stop and update the communities.

"The folks in the villages they can only see what's right in front of the village, we fly in a small plane and follow that break up front, we look at the ice conditions and we can let them know what we see from a much better vantage point then they have," said Scott Lindsey, Hydrologist in Charge at Alaska Pacific River Forecast Center.

River Ice 1

Lindsey says the fact that we have had a long drawn out break up created good conditions for low risk of flooding.

"Where break up starts in a lot of different places, ice melts in place, ice moves in place, you get local leads, there's a lot of place for when the main push of ice and water comes down, you have a lot of places to relieve that pressure, and not to back up and not to jam," said Lindsey, and that when temperatures raise quickly it can cause problems. "When there's a sudden change from colder than normal to warmer than normal, that's the worst case scenario for bad break up flooding and that was the case early May of 2009 and then Mid May in 2013, both of those years they had some pretty serious flooding here in Circle," said Lindsey.

One resident in Circle, Eva Schrader says she remembers the bad floods. "I've seen the flood in 2013 when the water went up to the post office, was the worst year, we got our little lake boat out and cruised around with the River Watch crew , and it was really high water, it’s amazing that the ice can go up so high," said Schrader.

The community becomes familiar with the River Watch Team since they come every spring. "I guess when we see the planes we definitely know that break up is coming soon, and then to just talk to you guys and hear that there's a low impact of flood is good to hear...Everybody downtown, my family members, are definitely happy that there's a low potential for flood, we don't have to do as much moving, and have bags packed and ready to go, like they usually do."

River Ice 2

While this year appears to be manageable, the River Watch team will continue monitoring the river, working with surrounding villages to prepare for future flooding events.