Conditions ripe for ice jams on Rock River

2014-02-19T15:17:00Z 2014-02-20T04:47:45Z Conditions ripe for ice jams on Rock RiverBarb Ickes The Quad-City Times

Anyone who was near the Rock River six years ago remembers the one-two punch that knocked many to their knees.

In early March 2008, the Rock was covered in a thick layer of ice and snow. When spring rains arrived early, deluges caused the river to rise rapidly, lifting and breaking the layer of thick ice. The flash flooding was bad enough, but things grew more dire when giant chunks of dislodged ice became jammed under the then-new Veterans Memorial Bridge at Carr's Crossing, which connects Rock Island and Milan.

Now, the conditions are shaping up like they were six years ago.

National Weather Service hydrologist Maren Stoflet said her office has been getting reports about thick cover on the Rock River. With potentially heavy rainfall in the immediate forecast, a repeat of 2008 is entirely possible.

"The good news is that the stream flows are still low," she said. "The river isn't particularly high to begin with, so that can be favorable."

If ice jams form again at Veterans Memorial Bridge at Carr's Crossing, Stoflet said, the cure for it is the same thing that causes it: "To break up an ice jam, you need a big push, which usually means rain."

If rain does not fall too quickly, the snow and ice cover on the Rock River could thaw slowly and cause few problems. Any precipitation, however, is likely to turn immediately into runoff, meteorologists say, because the ground is frozen. The harsh winter has pushed the frost line to 33 inches below ground, which means a considerable warm-up is required before the ground can absorb any extra moisture.

In 2008, the Moline Fire Department was forced to launch an emergency evacuation, helping residents of North and South Shore drives to get out of their homes ahead of the floodwaters. Some were in such a hurry, they left their pets behind and stood in long lines in the days that followed, waiting their turn for rides in flat-bottom boats to retrieve them.

At Martinis On The Rock, 4619 34th St., Rock Island, one of the restaurant's owners compared the movement of ice to an explosion.

“It was the most incredible sight I’ve ever seen," Ron Petersmith said the day after the massive ice jam. "We watched it for a few minutes — until we realized how fast it was coming. As the ice buckled and stacked, it sounded like gunshots going off, but louder.”

Adding to his problems, Petersmith said, was that his insurance agent advised him against flood insurance, assuring him the restaurant sits too high on the shore ever to be in the river's path. When he called his insurance agent, he was standing in river water in the restaurant's main dining room.

Petersmith died in December, and the current manager of Martini's said the insurance situation changed after 2008.

"In fact, I just finished paying the premium," Bill Cox said Wednesday, adding that the cost for a year of flood insurance was less than $10,000.

The concern now is having to file a claim.

"The snowmobilers say the ice layer is 26 inches," he said. "That's a lot of ice. We're concerned, and we're aware, but there's really nothing we can do."

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