Officials say spring flooding could be serious in Minnesotaby Rupa Shenoy, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — State officials and meterologists from the National Weather Service say the wet fall and dense winter snow could mean widespread flooding throughout the state this spring.
They issued a flood forecast Thursday, putting Minnesota residents on notice to expect high water.
Officials say the fall and winter have delivered a double-whammy -- lots of rain plus lots of wet snow.
The amount of moisture in the snow pack is twice what it should be this time of year, according to Dan Luna of the National Weather Service forecast office in the Twin Cities. There's a lot of snow on the ground everywhere in Minnesota, except the Arrowhead region in the far northeast.
"Every river in the state of Minnesota is at risk this spring, and that is something we don't normally see," Luna said.
Luna said there's a greater than 50 percent chance of major flooding along much of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers. St. Paul has a 10 to 20 percent chance of record flooding.
Even with no more precipitation this winter, there will likely be flooding in most areas.
"If we have a rapid snow melt similar to last year -- look out," Luna said. "If we get significant snowfall -- a foot or more in the next couple of months -- and if that snow is heavy and wet, look out. If we get rain scenarios, in either February, March or April, while we still have snow on the ground, look out."
Luna added that overland flooding could also close major highways across the state.
Kris Eide, director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management in Minnesota, asked families to prepare by drawing up emergency plans, taking pre-flood pictures of their homes, checking their sump pumps and removing debris from their property.
"We want to make sure people purchase flood insurance," said Eide. "Even if you're not in a risk area, if you're in a low-to-moderate risk area for flooding, you can still purchase flood insurance. and that's the best way to protect yourselves and your property."
Eide reminded homeowners there's a 30-day waiting period for a flood insurance policy to go into effect.
She also asked municipalities to prepare for flooding early. But many towns got that message long ago. Granite Falls city manager Bill Lavin said his town has been preparing for years.
"In the last years, there's not been one city council meeting -- and we meet twice a month -- where the issue of flood mitigation hasn't been on the agenda," Lavin said.
Lavin said his city has used state and federal grant money to take every possible precaution against flooding from the Minnesota River.
"We've spent in excess of $14 million on various flood mitigation projects," said Lavin, "ranging from relocating residents out of the flood plains, relocating commercial businesses in the downtown area, also strengthening the city's flood protection levies."
The situation can be trickier for communities that experience only moderate flooding.
The city of Stillwater, on the St. Croix River, has a 77 percent chance of moderate flooding this year. City administrator Larry Hansen said that's about what happened last year, and the city is still digging out financially.
"Last year we built a big dike. And if we truly get a flood, it's reimbursed when there's a [disaster] declaration declared," said Hansen. "But there was no declaration, because it got up to about where the dike started and then it receded."
So Stillwater was left with a $100,000 dike it didn't have to use. But Hansen says they couldn't take the chance of not being prepared.
- All Things Considered, 01/27/2011, 5:48 p.m.