The Coming Thaw Could Pose Threat To Area Bridges

By Jeff Neumeyer

February 17, 2014 Updated Feb 17, 2014 at 6:14 PM EDT

ALLEN COUNTY, Ind. (21ALIVE) --- After the snowfall events begin to taper off and warmer temperatures arrive, we'll be watching the three rivers in Fort Wayne to make sure flooding is not our next big weather headache.

It could all be made worse by the meltdown ahead.

Last summer, the Three Rivers Festival Raft Race made a comeback after 20 years in mothballs, showing off the St. Marys River at its very best.

Now, in February, it looks more like a frozen wasteland.

“Some years are good, and some they aren't, and it does come up over the riverbank," said Charlotte Weybright, who in the mid-1990's moved to Berry and Nelson Streets, a stone's throw from the St. Marys.

She'll spend the next days and weeks keeping an eye on the river, to see if water registers higher up on gauges across from her home.

It's almost part of the routine in her neighborhood.

“I guess I've gotten to know the river after 19 years. I love it, I wouldn't trade it for the world. It's just one of those things that goes with it," Weybright said.

Flooding may or may not be a problem, but the head of the Maumee River Basin Commission is worried about ice in the river, and when it melts, how that could cause trouble.

Rod Renkenberger says at the end of a bitter cold winter, area rivers can be dogged by a real enemy.

We're talking about ice jams.

It all starts with warmer temperatures and rainfall.

“The water starts pushing up from the bottom of the river, it's going to heave that ice, start breaking it up into chunks, and as they float downstream, eventually they are going to lodge up against the piers of the bridge," Renkenberger said.

He said during the historic flood of 1982, there was concern that giant chunks of floating ice might take out the Spencerville Covered Bridge in Dekalb County.

Ice jams can damage support structures, or block the flow of water and cause flooding behind them.

Allen County Highway officials are doing some early planning for the problem.
Contractors would likely be hired to break up any ice blockages, in case that's one more curveball this nasty winter throws our way.

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