CADILLAC — Mark Watkins gets a little nervous when the ground is still frozen solid and temperatures begin to warm up.
That's when flooding can occur.
As director of Osceola County Emergency Management, Watkins said he keeps a close eye on water levels, the degree of soil thaw and other factors this time of year.
With temperatures expected to rise into the 50s during the next few days, accompanied by rain, there's a good chance that water levels in lakes and rivers will rise throughout the area.
He said the possibility of flooding is ever-present for people who own homes in the Evart area near the Muskegon River.
"It's something those residents always have to look out for," Watkins said. "It's such a regular thing."
Watkins said a common misconception is that flooding is mostly caused by rain but in reality, the largest factor contributing to rising river and lake levels is snow and ice melt that can't be absorbed into the ground.
Some years are worse than others, such as last year when river levels reached 13 feet and in 2014, when they reached a record 15 feet, flooding low-lying areas throughout the county.
Fortunately, this year Watkins said conditions don't look too bad and he expects that flooding won't be a big issue later this week.
Generally speaking, water levels at 11 feet and above on the Muskegon River are considered abnormal; at that point, they begin to seep over the banks of the river and cause problems. This year, Watkins said river levels are very stable and soils have begun to thaw, meaning that much of the snow and ice melt will be absorbed into the ground rather than flow into the river. He doesn't expect river levels to reach even 10 feet in the next few days.
"We have a lot of leeway right now," Watkins said. "I'm not anticipating any major flooding."
Duane Alworden, 911 director for Wexford County, said the situation is similar in Wexford County, where flooding traditionally occurs in areas along the Manistee River, particularly north of Mesick, and in areas adjacent to the Hodenpyl Dam Pond.
"We haven't gotten any reports about water levels rising so far," Alworden said. "But we'll keep checking on them."
Alworden said with much of the snow already melted since the peak of accumulation a few weeks ago, and with frost beginning to come out of the ground, whatever's left to be melted mostly will be absorbed into the soil when temperatures start rising.
"We're not seeing a lot of standing water right now," Alworden said. "And that's a good thing. A couple of inches of rain might create problems, though."
Watkins said it's fairly early in the season for a big melt to occur; usually, such melting occurs in April or May, which means there's still some chance of flooding later this spring.
As far as what people can do to prepare this week and later this spring, Alworden said to keep an eye on water levels and if anyone notices them beginning to rise, to call Wexford County Emergency Management.
Watkins said there have been occasions when people have had to be temporarily relocated because floodwaters filled their homes. He doesn't expect that to happen when snow and ice melt this week.
While this area is expected to see only minor flooding — at worst — in the next couple of days, other parts of the U.S. might not be so lucky.
AccuWeather meteorologists say a pattern of generally dry and warm weather is expected to last through the early week before the next feature of concern develops midweek across the Plains and Midwest. This feature is forecast to bring rounds of heavy rainfall, flooding concerns and even isolated bouts of severe weather to the center of the country through the end of the week.
A turn toward unsettled weather will begin later Tuesday evening as a storm begins to take shape and ejects eastward out of the southern Rockies. The center of this storm will quickly push northeastward throughout the day Wednesday and bring a variety of precipitation types to portions of the Plains and Midwest.
As a swath of snow spreads from Wyoming to southwestern Ontario, Canada, rain and showers will overspread areas from the central Plains to the Great Lakes. A wet and dreary day is in store on Wednesday for cities like Minneapolis, Madison, Wisconsin and Chicago.
By later Wednesday afternoon, colder air will filter into the northern tier of the U.S. and will begin to press southward and encounter very warm air in place across southern and central Plains as well as the Ohio Valley. By Thursday, the battle between these two air masses will ignite rain and thunderstorms with the ability to unleash heavy downpours and even isolated severe weather.
AccuWeather meteorologists say that although the risk for widespread severe weather appears to be lower than originally thought several days ago, there still remains a significant degree of uncertainty with the overall atmospheric setup at midweek.