HALLOWELL, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- When the calendar turns to March, the attention of business owners in flood prone downtown Hallowell turns to the sleeping giant in their back yard, the Kennebec River.
"When you have a business right on the waterfront, it is something that you are always cautious of," explained Crystal DeVogt, manager of Timeless Treasures on Water Street, just feet from the river's edge. "You just keep an eye on it, and when you have to, you just take appropriate precautions."
Only the worst of the worst floods have their high water mark etched into history on a nearby building, but people here know it is only a matter of time before the Kennebec spills over its banks and into the heart of their community once again.
To help gauge the flood potential for most every river and stream in the state, the US Geological Survey enlists its own hydrologists, along with members of the Maine Geological Survey and volunteers to take snow core samples from dozens of sites statewide.
Armed with a snow tube, a spring scale and a GPS system, Charlie Culbertson of the USGS wades through snow and slush to gather this crucial data.
"You are just trying to get an idea of how much water is in that tube," he explained as he measured a sample of snow in Jefferson. "In that 8 1/2 inches of snow, almost 3 inches of that is water."
Culbertson says they choose sites in hardwood stands because the trees allow snow to reach the ground, keeps the snow from blowing away, and helps shield the snow from the sun, providing a better reading of the amount of snow remaining in the forest.
He says snow depths differ from community to community, but having so many sites measured helps give them a big picture look at the state's snow situation.
The surveys, which are conducted monthly from December through February, provide a snapshot of current conditions that allow forecasters to add into the equation with the weather and other information to help predict floods before they occur.
"Starting in March, we go out every week, because this is the time of the year where we are starting to see the snow dissipate," said Culbertson. "For the river flow people, for the flood people, this is a critical time. They need to know, on a weekly basis, how much water is up there, what was it last week, and what can we anticipate?"
The Maine River Flow Advisory Commission will hold their annual meeting on March 7th at the Maine Emergency Management Agency's headquarters in Augusta to discuss the information gathered in the surveys and talk about any situations they are monitoring as the temperatures begin to climb.