This winter’s weather perfect for an ice jam

TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) – For someone who has lived in the area for several decades, it may have been 25 years since they have seen something like the ice jams that moved through last week. Although dangerous, some people were taken back by the sight. It was something people, including residents on Barton Beach Road, said they have never seen before.

So, how does a strong ice jam form? Purdue Associate Professor of Agronomy Laura Bowling said first you need, what else, but ice.

“Certainly you have to have winter conditions that you had a substantial amount of ice forming,” Bowling said.

Several sub-zero days have helped with that this year. Bowling said next water levels need to rise. Rain and warmer temperatures caused that last week.

“Then it breaks the ice loose,” Bowling said. “If you have thick ice already formed on the river, then more water in the channel that is breaking it loose, then it just moves and starts piling up in places.”

Even though this year’s weather events were perfect for an ice jam to form, it does not happen every year in Indiana.

“Certainly, if you go north from here it does happen every year,” Bowling said. “In some locations, like Fairbanks, Alaska, people take bets on when the river ice is going to go out and when there is going to be an ice jam.”

“It’s not uncommon to have ice move on the Wabash [River],” Tippecanoe County EMA Director Smokey Anderson said. “This was just more pronounced than it has been really in my career.”

Anderson said he remembers working one other major ice jam on the Wabash River in 1989.

“We were out working that,” Anderson said. “It was a sight to behold. It was coming down taking trees out and taking bark off trees.”

Bowling credits an ice jam’s unpredictability for making it so dangerous and fascinating. She said some ice jams can move without major incidents. However, others work like a clog in a drain, which is what happened last week on Barton Beach Road.

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