Region's rivers top nation's flood risks

  • Article by: BILL MCAULIFFE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 17, 2011 - 8:51 PM

As spring melt begins, flood watchers concentrate on Minnesota and Red rivers.

The Minnesota River and the Red River of the North are at the top of the list of U.S. flood risks.

In a press conference Thursday, flood forecasters said both places are likely to see major or even record flooding within the next two weeks.

Minor flooding could begin this week on the Mississippi River and its tributaries over southeastern Minnesota and southwestern Wisconsin, they said. Moderate to major flooding could begin by early April.

Red River flooding is expected the last week of March through early April.

"The worst is still ahead," said Jack Hayes, director of the National Weather Service, noting that more than half the continental U.S. is facing an above-average flood risk.

Elsewhere in the region, the James River in North Dakota and Big Sioux River in South Dakota also made the list of flood risks identified by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. So did the Mississippi River from the Twin Cities to St. Louis, a stretch that is likely to see major flooding within the next two weeks.

In North Dakota, Devils Lake has an 80 percent chance of reaching 2 feet above last year's record of 1,452.1 feet.

The melt of a thick blanket of snow across the Northern Plains could set the stage for summer flooding along the Mississippi. It also could have an impact on the barge-shipping season and delay crop planting. This winter's snow cover across the north-central U.S. contains a water content ranked among the highest of the past 60 years, according to NOAA.

Parts of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois already have experienced major flooding, and lower New York, eastern Pennsylvania and northern New Jersey remain vulnerable to flooding from snowmelt.

Weather outlooks into April for the Northern Plains are weighted toward cooler- and wetter-than normal conditions across the Northern Plains.

Tributaries of major rivers in Minnesota, including the South Fork of the Crow River at Delano, the Cottonwood at New Ulm and the Zumbro at Zumbro Falls already have begun rising. Chaska officials indicated Thursday that the Hwy. 41 crossing over the Minnesota River could be closed as soon as next week. But in southeastern Minnesota, Zumbro Falls, still cleaning up from a devastating and record flash flood in September, is expected to see little impact from a crest predicted for Monday.

Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646

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