Corn stalk bales could be seen floating away as rivers in Woodbury County quickly spilled out of their banks last week due to melting snow and rainfall over frozen farm fields, said Mark Nelson, a Woodbury County Farm Bureau member.

“Many bales are still sitting in fields with water half way up,” said Nelson. Floodwaters closed roads leading into Moville from two directions, and many businesses, including the local fertilizer facility, were flooded as the West Fork Little Sioux River spread more than one-half mile out of its banks, Nelson said.

“Locals say it’s probably as bad as 1993,” he said. “We just couldn’t believe how fast it happened. The rivers came up in about 12 to 16 hours.”

The rapid snowmelt and rain forced road closures across Iowa, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation. The town of Hornick in southern Woodbury County was evacuated, as was a portion of Missouri Valley, located in Harrison County. So many gravel roads in Woodbury County were closed that officials ran out of warning signs to mark the closures, Nelson said.

There’s simply nowhere for the water to go, reported Justin Glisan, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship state climatologist. Even if the ground wasn’t frozen, soils across almost all of Iowa are fully saturated after the third-wettest autumn on record.

“When we combine that with record Feb­­ruary snowfall, we start to get into soils that are the wettest we’ve seen in a very long time,” he said.

Iowa’s statewide average of 22.6 inches of snow in February was 15 inches above normal, said Glisan. Parts of northern and north-central Iowa last week still had 2 to 4 inches of water in snow that needed to melt, leading to flood-prone fields as temperatures warmed up quickly and three days of rainfall added to the woes.

Snowpack melts away

Nelson said the snowpack in Woodbury County virtually disappeared in just two or three days with 2 to 3 inches of rain on top of that.

“The county engineer said on the radio this morning he’s never seen a spring switch this fast in his 35 years,” Nelson said.

Ice jams were also a problem, causing situations such as one at the Des Moines River in Ottumwa, which rose from 7 feet to nearly 14 feet in about 15 minutes, Glisan said.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds issued a disaster proclamation for 21 counties in response to flooding and severe weather.

The saturated soils “could create some challenges in getting fieldwork completed this spring,” said Glisan. Fieldwork is already behind schedule after the wet fall prevented many tillage and fertilizer applications.

However, the forecast for the last part of March calls for much improved conditions, he said.

“The 8- to 14-day outlook shows below-average precipitation chances,” he said. “Once that snow melts, we can get into some consistently warmer days.”