With spring here and the snow melting, flood season arrives.

The melt-off promises to be a nasty one.

“For the third consecutive year, the stage is set for potential widespread, record flooding in the North Central United States,” said Jack Hayes, director of the National Weather Service.

The North Central snow pack contains more water now than snow pack in the past 60 years. The Environment News Service surveys the gloom:

The highest spring flood risk areas include the Red River of the North, which forms the state line between eastern North Dakota and northwest Minnesota.

Risks are also high along the Milk River in eastern Montana and along the James and Big Sioux Rivers in South Dakota.

The weather service is also warning about flood risks along the Minnesota River and throughout the upper Mississippi River basin from Minneapolis, Minnesota southward to St. Louis, Missouri.

Floods will inundate portions of lower New York, eastern Pennsylvania and northern New Jersey, according to the weather service.

The story links to this National Weather Service site, which lets you see the status of 4,779 river gauges across the country. I took this screen grab of the 14 gauges where major flooding was occurring Wednesday morning:

Wednesday's flooding

Wednesday's flooding

The site lets you drill down, so I can tell you the flooding is near East Stump Lake, ND; the James and Big Sioux rivers in southeast SD; the Cottonwood River near New Ulm, MN; the Ohio River near Paducah, KY; and the Mississippi near Osceola, AR.

This I.I.I. video discusses the basics of flood insurance, including the most important fact: The standard homeowners policy does not cover flood.

Insurance agents sell flood coverage, but in almost every case the federal government bears the risk through the National Flood Insurance Program, usually referred to at the NFIP. Details here, including a cool interactive device that lets you estimate how expensive flood damage can be. A six-inch flood in a 2,000-square-foot home will set you back $39,150, with the cost of flooring the biggest chunk of that, at $15,870.

Also note that flood coverage doesn’t take effect until 30 days after you have gotten it. That’s to prevent people from binding coverage as they canoe out their front door – a guaranteed money-loser if you are the insurer.

And NFIP has enough to contend with. Losses from Katrina and the other 2004-2005 hurricanes left the program with $18 billion of debt. The debt contributed to Congress’ difficulty reauthorizing the program last year. It expired – temporarily – several times, disrupting home buying. (Banks like to see flood insurance before lending in low-lying areas.)

The program is authorized through September, certainly enough for spring flood season. Two weeks ago, Congress held hearings on a restructure to keep the program going another five years. “There’s no question the program is in dire need of reform,” Republican Rep. Judy Biggert told Reuters. The NFIP “continues to be financially unstable.” One of her key goals will be to “eliminate taxpayer risk” through pricing the risk closer to the actual exposure.