Minnesota flooding updates for Monday, March 28

Posted at 9:23 PM on March 28, 2011 by Michael Olson, Paul Tosto and MPR News Staff

AT A GLANCE: Mississippi to crest Wednesday in St. Paul well below flood defenses... Fingers crossed on second crest... Check out our flooding photo gallery below.

9:25 PM: First wave brings less flooding than expected

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Last weekend's cooler weather helped keep rivers from reaching some of the record flood levels forecasters had predicted last week.

The downward revisions were welcome news to many Minnesota communities that have been preparing for spring floods, but officials said it's too soon to know whether major flooding could still occur in April. That depends on how quickly the warm temperatures melt the snow, and how much rain or snow falls in the next few weeks. Read more. (Madeleine Baran) (Photo by Jeffrey Thompson)


7:10 PM: The Perplexed Hydrologist
There's no way around it - flood forecasting is difficult, even for people who specialize in it. National Weather Service hydrologist Steve Buan shared his flood knowledge with All Things Considered this evening.

His message? Flood forecasting is far from an exact science. First, you need to rely on weather forecasts for rain and snow. And then you need to apply those forecasts, plus additional predictions, to the condition of the soil. The whole business, Buan said, "really gets to be quite a task."

So far, he said, the flooding has been milder than expected, but there's still a risk of major flooding when the rest of the snow in northern Minnesota melts.

But Buan said there has been one surprise - ice dams.

"We're expecting somewhat of an ice problem, but we're kind of perplexed as to why it's lasting so long," he said. Usually, most ice dams melt away after 7 to 9 days of melting. In some parts of the state, there's been 2 to 3 weeks of melting, but the ice dams have yet to disappear.

Ice dams can cause serious damage. Worried about ice dams forming on your roof? The University of Minnesota Extension has some helpful advice. (Madeleine Baran)

6:00 PM: Outlook for the Red River Valley
From MPR News reporter Dan Gunderson:

The Red River in Fargo-Moorhead is still below flood stage, but the National Weather Service says there's a 50-50 chance the river will reach record levels this spring.

While rivers are expected to crest this week in southern Minnesota, a crest on the Red River is not likely until early to mid April.

Historically, spring flood crests on the Red happen in mid April. The past two years the Red River has crested in late March, two or three weeks earlier than normal.

Crews with bulldozers are building temporary earthen levees in many locations in Fargo and Moorhead.

Fargo has 2.5 million sandbags ready and Moorhead has filled 1.8 million sandbags. If temperatures rise above freezing, sandbags will be delivered to homes along the river later this week so volunteers can build sandbag dikes.

Dozens of flood-prone homes have been purchased and moved or demolished in both Fargo and Moorhead. Workers are still cleaning up those areas, and earthen levees will be built where sandbag dikes were used to fight past floods.

In 2009 when the Red River reached record levels, thousands were temporarily evacuated in Fargo and Moorhead. With all the flood mitigation that's been completed in the past two years, city officials believe evacuations are much less likely this year.

Fighting floods is expensive and disruptive. This is the third year in a row of major flooding in Fargo-Moorhead.

Building emergency levees and sandbag dikes costs an estimated $20 million.

Fargo city officials say about $27 million has been spent since 2009 on buyouts of flood prone homes and construction of new earthen levees. In Moorhead about $35 million has been spent since 2009 on home buyouts, levees and flood walls.

Other costs are more difficult to measure. In 2009, many business in Fargo-Moorhead were closed for a week resulting in lost productivity.

While every dump truck and bulldozer operator in the area is kept busy for several weeks building levees, other businesses don't fare so well. Many business owners say each spring flood brings a slowdown in the local economy as life is disrupted and most residents turn their attention to the Red River.

4:55 PM: Fingers crossed on Minnesota's second crest

Towns along the Minnesota River are getting through the first flood crest without too much pain. But when will the next wave hit and will it be worse?
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MPR News reporter Mark Steil will update MPR listeners at 5:30 PM as part of larger report on All Things Considered. You can listen in. But here's an advance look on what Steil's found.

What's the outlook for a second crest? Montevideo city manager Steve Jones says that's a big question right now, but as he puts it "we've got our fingers crossed". A lot depends on what happens to the north of the Minnesota. There's still a lot of heavy, wet, snow there waiting to melt...rivers like the Pomme de Terre and the Chippewa have a good deal of water yet to send south into the Minnesota.

Rivers like the Lac Qui Parle, Redwood and Cottonwood will contribute less water to a possible second crest on the Minnesota compared to the current round. But if there's heavy rain anywhere in the watershed that will complicate things.

The Minnesota will likely stay elevated for most of April...which means it could be primed to flood if we have heavy rains anytime during that period.

Image from MN River Basin Data Center

3:45 PM: Flooding photo gallery

Minnesotans in MPR's Public Insight Network help us daily with stories and story ideas. They're coming through again in our coverage of the 2011 floods.

Four in our network -- David F. Clobes, Lero Odola, Dave Hageman and Greg Peterson -- sent us their flood photos. Earlier today we featured Clobes' flooded "no camping" sign, shot between Mankato and St. Peter. Check out the work below.

You can help cover the flooding, too. Drop us a line or a photo. Everything we get makes us smarter about what's happening and better able to report.



Thanks to MPR's Molly Bloom for putting the slide show together.

3:25 PM: Fargo sandbag convoys start Thursday
Fargo city engineer Terry Ludlum says as many as 425,000 sandbags will be distributed through the weekend, KFGO reports.

Here's video of an emergency sandbag convoy from the 2009 flood.

3:05 PM: "Flood stage" not so scary?
MPR News blogger Bob Collins has a new post that will give you a good, visual sense of what the Mississippi River looks like at normal stage and flood stage.

He makes a good point that reaching "flood stage" sounds scarier than it is and even "major flood stage is nowhere near as dramatic as it sounds."

St. Paul's flood stage is 17 feet. The last reading an hour ago put the river at 18.5 feet and headed for 19.2.

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MPR News photographer Jeffrey Thompson checked in with this photo:

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2:30 PM: Time Lapse: Minnesota River on the rise
Here's a cool, brief video of the Minnesota River swelling over the past week at a point near Shakopee.

1:50PM: Metro towns holding their own

MPR News reporter Sasha Aslanian caught up with officials from several towns in the Twin Cities metro facing floods. Here are her updates.

St. Paul: Rick Larkin, the city's director of emergency management, said he was concerned about the warmer weather forecast that will deliver melting in the Mississippi River basin in north central Minnesota and bring a second crest to St. Paul.

"The fact that right now we probably won't experience record (flooding) is a good thing" but officials will keep a close eye over the next few weeks.

Savage: "We're already thinking and planning ahead for the second crest," said John Powell, the city works director.

The cooler weather is bringing some relief, letting some of the prior snow melt move through before the next round. The city expects a crest on the Minnesota River about about a foot higher than it is right now and Powell said he didn't anticipate any major road closings.

"At this point, it's similar to what we've experienced in past years with spring flooding, maybe a little bit higher."

Hastings: "We are seeing a better forecast today than we were anticipating last week," said the city's Shannon Rausch.

With the cooler weather the forecast for the initial crest of the Mississippi at Hastings is about 18 feet, down from the previously projected 21.5 feet. "It's really good news for us. We don't see significant impact until 19 feet; 18.5 is good and we can manage that."

Scott County: Things seem under control. The county's dealing with mainly road and bridge issues rather than flooded homes and businesses, said county emergency management director Chris Weldon.

"I do have concerns that when it warms up, the water...could come back up. Any rain would impact directly," he said. "I don't think we're out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination and still keeping a close eye on what's happening."

People are being good about minding the barricades and road closures, he added. The tragic death of a MnDOT worker swept into a flooded river brought home the danger.

Help us report on the floods. Contact us directly and tell us what's happening where you live.

12:24 PM: St. Paul: Crest Wednesday below flood guard
St. Paul city officials say they expect the Mississippi River to hit an initial crest of 19.2 feet on Wednesday and flood protections are in place for up to 23 feet; the river was measured late this morning at 18.48 feet and is projected to be down to 17 feet by Sunday.

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City officials are clearly concerned that the perceptions about flooding in St. Paul will keep people out of downtown shops and restaurants even though downtown may not be affected.

"With the NCAA Frozen Four coming to St. Paul next week, it is important for residents and visitors to know that Saint Paul is open for business," the city wrote in its flood update.

11:40 AM: Key steps to cut flood damage
North Dakota State University this morning posted some great suggestions to minimize the potential flood damage in your home.

Here are two we hadn't thought of before:

Move hazardous materials to higher locations. This includes paint, oil, cleaning supplies and other dangerous materials.

Move snow away from the house's foundation. If the ground is sloped 1 inch per foot near the house, moving snow just 3 to 5 feet from the house will reduce problems.
If you have any tips to pass on, please contact us directly.

11:20 AM: Stillwater flooding fears ease
KSTP reports that Stillwater community and business leaders were told this morning that St. Croix River levels "are not expected to cause major flooding, if any flooding at all on this crest."

The current National Weather Service projection shows river levels edging up to flood stage later in the week but not crossing.

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11:10 AM: Living by the river, preparing for the flood
Terry Crowson is a doctor and long-time St. Paulite who moved with his wife a few years ago to a townhouse in the Upper Landing development on Shepard Road. He gives a good first person account today of preparing for the worst.

10:35 AM: St. Paul's Niagara?
MPR News reporter Sasha Aslanian just passed this note to us.

St. Paul director of emergency operations Rick Larkin says the volume of water churning through the Mississippi right now is the equivalent of Niagara Falls.

The front lawn in front of the Science Museum of Minnesota looks like the river is devouring a garden party.

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The Niagara volume data is pretty cool, although it does look more striking going over the falls.

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What's the flooding like around you? Drop us a line and tell us or send us a quick photo.

10:20 AM: Hwy 25 south of Watertown open
MnDOT reports that it opened Hwy 25 from Hwy 7 to Carver County Road 112 to traffic this morning. "Flood waters have receded and motorists are allowed to travel through the area in a single lane."

10:10 AM: No Camping
What is it about flood photos that makes them so compelling? Sometimes it's just the irony. David Clobes, part of MPR's Public Insight Network, sent us a bunch of photos from the Mankato - St. Peter area. We'll put together a slide show and post it later today.

Here's one, though. David tells us he shot this of Seven Mile Creek at Highway 169 between Mankato and St Peter.

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9:55: AM Mississippi River tips into flood stage at Wabasha
Latest from the National Weather Service shows the Mississippi River at Wabasha crossed into flood stage. Here's the graph:

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The good news is that the first crest isn't expected to get much worse.

9:20 AM: Flood crests reach west metro
The first crest of the "flood wave" is moving into the west metro today, says MPR's Paul Huttner.

So far, he notes, the first flood crests around Minnesota are passing without major incident. The Minnesota River has crested and is falling today at Morton, Mankato and Henderson.

The first crest of the Minnesota River at Montevideo is expected around noon today, the West Central Tribune reports.

9:10 AM: Flood stress rises with the water
Flood waters can do a ton of property damage but we sometimes forget the toll taken on people who can see the disaster coming toward them in slow motion.

Mara Solberg and her husband live in Horace, ND, south of Fargo. She's a source in MPR's Public Insight Network , living about 300 feet from the Wild Rice River. She sent us this heartfelt message Sunday:

My husband has lived on this farm along the Wild Rice river all his life. The most major flood that changed our life was the 1997 flood. 2008 and 2009 and now this coming one are stressful. We are getting tired and know some decisions need to be made.

The water is from overland flooding and we are going to spend thousands of dollars to raise our road leading into our farm. We retired from farming, but plan to stay here for awhile yet. The water surrounds our house and buildings and then recedes, and for awhile we are unable to leave our farm except by boat .

"Just writing about this is stressful," she added. "So just letting you know, we are at the mercy of nature."

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They don't have flood insurance.

We'll be keeping close tabs on Mara and many of the other folks from our Network in the path of spring flooding. You can help our reporting: Tell us what you're seeing.

8:10 AM: Flood news from 8:06 newscast
Here's what MPR News newscaster Phil Picardi read to listeners at 8:06 this morning:

--An initial crest of the Crow River at Delano is easing fears of major flood damage. The crest is three feet below the record, but a second crest is possible later this week. In St. Paul, the Mississippi has risen five feet in recent days, and officials have closed off access to Harriet Island. The Minnesota River is also at "major" flood stage in Montevideo and New Ulm, and flooding along the Cottonwood River in New Ulm caused a gas outage over the weekend. No major damage has been reported.

-- Fargo's flood hot line is up and running. The service is meant for residents on the primary line of flood protection. The city has built clay levees and plans to install about 1.7 million sandbags to hold off Red River flooding. The National Weather Service says the river has a 50 percent chance of nearing the record 2009 flood that crested at almost 41 feet.

-- The next week may bring three storms to the area but none are likely to have a major impact on the state's flood outlook. National Weather Service meterologist James Taggert says the first system will bring a small amount of snow to southwestern Minnesota tomorrow. Another storm late Thursday may add traces of snow changing into light rain. Yet another system could bring rain next weekend. Taggert says the days will get slightly warmer but the nights will stay cold.

7:55 AM: Next Crest Expected To Be Lower

MPR's Paul Huttner says the flood outlook is positive and a second crest is likely to be lower than the first. "The rivers will be falling this week -- almost ideal weather" for receding flood waters. "We may yet dodge a bullet on this flooding this spring," he told Cathy Wurzer on Morning Edition. Follow Huttner on his blog, Updraft.

7:15 AM: Crow River Expected to Rise Again

Barricades in Delano will remain in place as the city braces for a second round of flooding from the Crow River. MPR's Phil Picardi reports that yesterday's crest of the Crow "was three feet shy of the 23 foot record." A second crest is possible later this week - as snow melt enters the watershed.

6:59 AM: New Ulm Gas Line Compromised by Cottonwood River

Crews restored natural gas service in New Ulm Sunday after flood waters from the Cottonwood River cracked a section of the underground line. Residents reported smelling gas and seeing bubbles on the river which prompted a worker to shut off the gas without further incident. "I have a great respect for the river. I wouldn't have done what they were doing," said New Ulm resident Chuck Wieland told the Star Tribune as he watched crews repair the gas lines from his home.

6:40 AM: Flood Tourism in Delano

Crow River Crests, Delano, Minn. Braces: MyFoxTWINCITIES.com


6:15 AM: Three Rivers in Major Flood Stage

Minnesotans have avoided historic flooding levels so far. Freezing temperatures are keeping recent snow accumulations from adding to stream flow. Low overnight temperatures are expected to continue to create favorable slow-thaw conditions. The Crow River at Delano crested yesterday, but is still in major flood stage. The Mississippi River at St. Paul, also in major flood stage, is expected to crest on Wednesday. Harriet Island park is closed. The Minnesota River at New Ulm is in major flood stage, but waters are projected to recede tomorrow.

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