Spring flooding promises to wreak havoc across much of Minnesota, with some river cities and towns in danger of seeing water levels that could exceed recent records.
A welcome respite: Runners, walkers and bikers made their way around Lake Harriet on Thursday during a morning blanketed by heavy fog. Winter weather soon will return, adding to the potential for disastrous flooding in the spring.
From wet basements to leaky roofs to commuting detours, nearly two-thirds of Minnesotans stand to be affected by spring flooding this year, Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Kris Eide said Thursday.
Eide and other state and weather officials announced that extremely high water is all but certain across the southern two-thirds of Minnesota. Flood levels could exceed recent records in some areas.
Fargo-Moorhead has about a 25 percent chance of seeing the Red River crest higher than its 2009 record. In the Twin Cities area, major flooding is expected to close key commuter crossings and riverside roads from Stillwater through St. Paul to the southwest suburbs. The Interstate 35W Minnesota River crossing could see lane closures.
The updated outlooks for specific river cities in Minnesota slightly increased the likelihood of major flooding in many areas.
The past week's thaw, weather officials said, has only compacted the state's snow cover, without releasing much of its water content. That snow is holding 3 to 6 inches of water across much of southern Minnesota, with 8 inches in some recent core samples in parts of southwestern Minnesota.
Eide and others urged Minnesotans to buy flood insurance soon because the 30-day waiting period for policies to take effect is already bumping up against the onset of flooding, which is expected in late March to early April.
More than 20 percent of flood damage occurs outside flood zones, said state Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman.
Eide also expressed confidence that high water would not bring as much damage as historic floods, due to home buyouts, road improvements and other mitigation efforts, as well as extensive preparations already underway in cities across the state.
The state has purchased and removed 1,300 homes from flood-prone areas since 1997, she said.
Mike Starkey, emergency planning director for the state agriculture department, added that the agency is urging farmers to protect equipment, livestock and grain from possible flooding, some of which is expected to occur as meltwater begins running across open fields.
No rivers are immune
While the state's major rivers -- the Mississippi, the Minnesota, the Red and the St. Croix -- are the focus of the flood forecasts, "No rivers are considered immune" from flooding, said Dan Luna, meteorologist-in-charge at the Twin Cities office of the National Weather Service. Such southern Minnesota rivers as the Blue Earth, the Cottonwood, the Zumbro and the Cannon could all produce troublesome floods, in part because they are not as well protected as the major rivers.
Heavy snow cover, saturated and frozen soil beneath, and stream flows that have been extremely high since last autumn in some locations are the main factors that will cause flooding, said Greg Gust, warning coordination meteorologist for the Grand Forks office of the National Weather Service.
"And guess what? Winter conditions are coming back," Gust said, referring to sub-freezing temperatures across the state forecast for Friday.
Global weather forces, including a La Niña pattern cooling the Pacific Ocean, are expected to produce cool and wet conditions across the Upper Midwest for the remainder of winter into early spring, Gust said.
Thursday's flood update covers the period through May 23; at least two further updates are scheduled for March 3 and March 10.
Actual crest predictions may follow shortly after that, as soon as rivers throw off their ice cover and begin flowing again.
Paul Walsh contributed to this report. Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646