Flood risk slightly lower for Red, Minnesota Riversby Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio,
Mark Steil, Minnesota Public Radio,
Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio
Moorhead, Minn. — The latest National Weather Service flood outlook for the Red River Valley shows a slight reduction in flood risk.
National Weather Service Hydrologist Steve Buan says the potential for major flooding remains unchanged, but the forecast river levels are about one half foot lower because of below normal precipitation over the last two weeks.
However, the outlook is still for significant flooding and doesn't change the need for flood preparations.
National Weather Service Forecaster Greg Gust called the new outlook a "ray of sunshine in an otherwise gloomy flood outlook."
RED RIVER VALLEY PREPARES
Flood preparations continue, and both Fargo and Moorhead are now offering incentives to encourage residents to volunteer for sandbag duty. Sandbag operations are going slower than city officials hoped for, with light volunteer turnout.
Fargo is suggesting volunteers choose a nonprofit organization. For every 100 hours of sandbagging, the city will donate $75 to that organization.
The city of Moorhead is offering free daycare Friday and again on Tuesday, March 9. The cities are also preparing to build temporary clay levees in some neighborhoods. The goal is to reduce the need for sandbags.
In rural areas of the Red River Valley, small towns are gearing up for flooding as well. Some are protected by ring dikes, but in others the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is ready to build temporary levees. As officials predict specific river levels, the Corps will build those levees.
Many small towns and rural residents need sandbag dikes as well, and they are at least making plans to have the necessary materials on hand.
All of this preparation costs money, and while cities' budget reserves aren't as big as they once were, so far they can afford the work.
Some of the levee-building costs are borne by the Army Corps of Engineers, and many of the costs can be reimbursed by the federal government if the region is declared a federal disaster area.
North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven has already requested a federal disaster designation, so flood preparation costs can be covered by FEMA and local officials want preparations done well in advance.
IMPROVED OUTLOOK FOR MINNESOTA RIVER
There's been a small change for the better in the outlook for the Minnesota River as well.
At Granite Falls, the National Weather Service says there's just a 3 percent chance the river will reach major flood stage, a slight decline from two weeks ago.
In Montevideo, the city manager says the latest flood outlook is "pretty good news." Steve Jones says Montevideo saw a record crest in 1997 and also had significant flood waters in 2001.
Forecasters still believe there's an 80 percent chance the Minnesota will reach the 18-foot major flood stage in Montevideo this spring. But Jones says if that's all the higher the river gets, it won't be much of a problem. At 18 feet, he says some park land may be flooded but that's about all.
The real problems would start at 20 feet; some roads may have to close, and there could be problems with water backing up in the city's sanitary sewer system. At 22 feet, some low-lying businesses and possibly some homes will have water touching their buildings.
Jones says the good news in the latest outlook is that there's only a 3 percent chance of reaching 22 feet, compared to 10 percent two weeks ago.
"I certainly feel better today than I did yesterday," said Jones.
He says city staff is meeting daily to talk about the flood situation and about what needs to be done. Jones says one of the first things they did was make sure the city has enough sandbags. He says the city now has a half million sandbags in storage.
Jones says volunteers will probably start filling the bags towards the end of the month, once it becomes clearer exactly how many will be needed to fight spring flood waters.
Jones says he's also encouraged by the weather. He says this week's daytime temperatures have been in the 30s, with nighttime readings below freezing, "which is perfect, exactly what we want," said Jones.
The snow cover in southwest Minnesota is generally between 15 inches and two feet deep.
TWIN CITIES OUTLOOK
There's a 70 percent chance of major flooding in downtown St. Paul this spring. That's a higher risk than the estimate from just a few weeks ago.
Officials at the St. Paul Downtown Airport say they can set up a special flood wall and other measures to protect runways from high water. The removable wall would require the airport to shut down temporarily.
Gary Warren, the director of airport development for the Metropolitan Airports Commission, says the St. Paul airport underwent major upgrades after a series of floods inundated the field starting in the 1990s.
"We were able to permit a floodwall that is meant to protect the airport from a 100-year-flood. The forecast that we're talking about today could actually exceed a 100-year flood, but that's less than a 5 percent chance, I believe."
The weather service also says there's a good chance that water will submerge Harriet Island and Warner Road, and flood parts of residential Lilydale.
The National Weather Service's long-range outlook is tipping slightly towards dry and cool conditions. Snow cover as far south as Missouri this year is expected to delay the spring warmup here. That will also keep the warm/cool air boundary to the south. That's a positive outlook, since storms tend to follow that boundary.
Widespread flooding is forecast across the Midwest this year, so officials are concerned about a shortage of supplies like sandbags and pumps later this spring.
Dan Gunderson is based in Moorhead, Minn.