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Widespread flooding expected as rapid snowmelt surges into Minnesota rivers

It comes after a winter that brought significant amounts of snow across Minnesota, reaching the top 10 snowiest winters for many parts of the state.

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Overland flooding has already begun in areas near the Red River on the Minnesota-North Dakota border. This image of flooding in southern rural Clay County was posted to social media Thursday, April 13, by the Clay County Sheriff's Office.
Contributed / Clay County Sheriff's Office via Facebook

ST. PAUL — As large amounts of snow rapidly melt in warm and even summerlike temperatures seen across much of Minnesota this week, state and federal officials are making preparations for widespread spring flooding.

At a briefing in St. Paul on Thursday, April, 13, Gov. Tim Walz, the National Weather Service, Army Corps of Engineers, and state agencies said they’re getting ready for major flooding to unfold over the next week on the Mississippi, Minnesota, St. Croix and Red rivers — though the exact degree of the flooding is yet to be seen. It comes after the winter brought significant amounts of snow across Minnesota, reaching the top 10 snowiest winters for many parts of the state.

“We do have this ongoing flooding. It is going to get worse. Thankfully, a few conditions were in place that are keeping us from being quite as bad as it could be,” said Twin Cities National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Hawblitzel. “Most notably, the drought that we were in last year. That has helped the soils absorb some of that moisture, and the frost levels are a little higher than normal.”

Water equivalent in snow reached 4-6 inches in central Minnesota at the beginning of April, and 6-9 inches in northern Minnesota and the headwaters of the St. Croix River in Wisconsin, according to the Weather Service. Meteorologists in an April 6 report said Minnesota and Mississippi River Basins had an “unprecedented” 3-5 inches of snow water on the ground as of earlier this month, ranking it as one of the top three snowpacks on record for that time of year.

Much of the snow has melted across the southern half of the state and is moving through streams toward larger rivers where it will drive up water levels in the coming days, Hawblitzel said. Rivers like the St. Croix and Mississippi will swell in the coming days, though less predictable will be the Red River and Rainy River on the Minnesota-Canada border, where some snowpack remains.

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“Those rivers are already going up, and there’s more liquid water sitting in the snowpack ready to flow in,” he said. “That’s what we’ll be watching very closely.”

Hawblitzel said forecasters and emergency planners will need to pay particularly close attention to those rivers, as it will be harder to predict exactly how they will behave. He noted their flooding tends to move more slowly than the southern rivers, and rainfall could have a significant impact on their levels later on.

Already, though, the Red River at Fargo is expected to surge by next week from 15 feet to 30.9 feet — major flood stage. On Thursday, overland flooding was already submerging fields in rural Clay County in northwestern Minnesota, according to video posted by local authorities.

Local officials across the region anticipated significant flooding and are already taking steps to deal with rising waters. In North Dakota, the city of Fargo and Cass County are already preparing for a top-10 flood and are beginning to fill sandbags.

On the Wisconsin border, residents of the city of Stillwater, Minnesota, have been filling sandbags in anticipation of a flood on the St. Croix River. Officials in St. Paul have declared a flood emergency in anticipation of a crest within the coming week that has a 50/50 chance of reaching major flood stage in the coming days, the Pioneer Press reported.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Deputy Commander Lt. Col. Rob Wilkins said the corps has already started to move flood-fighting materials like sandbags and water pumps into positions across the state where severe flooding is expected. Officials with the corps are working “closely” with communities on local preparations, he added.

The Corps of Engineers is also lowering the level of reservoirs along major rivers in order to accommodate more water from the expected flooding, Wilkins said. There are six reservoirs the corps uses to fight flooding on the Red River and another six in the Mississippi headwaters.

Follow Alex Derosier on Twitter @xanderosier or email aderosier@forumcomm.com .

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