Friday, January 9, 2004

Icy turf can't soak up rains

Lack of vegetation limits absorption

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Does it seem unusual that the Ohio River is flooding in freezing temperatures?

It's more common than you might think.

The rising Ohio River is expected to crest today at 54 feet - two feet above flood stage.


Hooters, 301 Riverboat Row.

The Beer Sellar, 301 Riverboat Row. Will reopen at around 49 feet.

Showboat Majestic, 435 E. Mehring Way - Closed for the season. (Not because of high water.)


BB Riverboats Inc., foot of Greenup Street:While the business is open with dinners served, scheduled cruises are not sailing because of the high water.

Covington Landing (includes Friday's, Applebees and Yucatan Liquor Stand), foot of Madison Avenue.

Mike Fink Restaurant, 1 Ben Bernstein Place.

Montgomery Inn Boathouse, 925 Eastern Ave. It usually stays open until the river gets past 541/2 feet.

Don Pablo's, 401 Riverboat Row.

Buckhead Mountain Grill, 35 Fairfield Ave.

Joe's Crab Shack, 25 Fairfield Ave.

Flooding today will be relatively minor, causing a few businesses on the Kentucky side of the river to close and problems for people driving or living in Cincinnati's east end communities such as California.

While most people may think spring is the season for rivers to flood, that's often not true for the Ohio River.

Since 1858, Cincinnati's stretch of the Ohio River has flooded nearly as often in January and February as it has in March, April and May combined. The 41 floods each in January and February are outnumbered only by the month of March, which has seen the river flood 64 times in the past 146 years.

Jeffrey Sites, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, said as winter strangles life from grass and plants, it provides a helping hand to flood water.

"All the vegetation is dormant, so the ground isn't soaking up much of the water that falls," Sites said. "And if the ground is frozen, even less of the rainfall is absorbed. If the ground isn't soaking it up, all that moisture percolates into the rivers and streams."

Some of the city's most devastating floods happened in winter, not spring.

• A late January flood in 1913 left some 40,000 Cincinnatians homeless.

• Floods on Feb. 1 and Feb. 12, 1918 thawed the river and left huge ice chunks floating down the river, where they crushed the hulls of many steamboats.

• Nineteen frigid, wet days in January 1937 brought the worst flood in Cincinnati's history. The river crested on Jan. 26 at 79.99 feet.

Paul Edwin Potter, professor emeritus in the Department of Geology at the University of Cincinnati, said the city's location contributes to winter flooding.

"We are not far enough north to keep the temperatures below freezing," Potter said. "So it's not cold enough to keep the weather from oscillating between snow and rain. Farther north, (states like) Michigan and Minnesota are pretty much snow-covered most of the winter. So they get a spring thaw and that's when (they get) flooding.

"That's not the case here."

Don Maccarone, director of the Hamilton County Emergency Management Agency, toured Miami, Crosby and Whitewater townships Thursday and he didn't think there was enough damage to qualify the county for federal aid. To qualify, communities must have at least 25 homes suffer losses of 40 percent of their value, or more, for federal low-interest loans.

"There are a number of homes with water in their basements, but with no major damage," Maccarone said. "That's not to say the impact on those individuals isn't great, but it's not enough to qualify us for federal assistance. The flooding was pretty widespread, but it could have been much worse."


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