The peak is expected in St. Paul Wednesday, but delayed melt could bring another peak later.
Placid, sunny, but cool weather squeezed a few more drops out of Minnesota's enduring snow cover Tuesday, raising hopes for a slow melt and fears that rain or a quick warmup could force rivers even higher.
Rivers could crest several times this spring, since they're already high and there's still deep snow and water from last fall's heavy rainfall stored in the region's soils, noted Diane Cooper, service hydrologist with the Twin Cities office of the National Weather Service office.
"We're going to be very sensitive [to rainfall] for quite a while," she said. "We've got a long month and a half left."
In St. Paul
Having joined waters with the swollen Minnesota River, the Mississippi is expected to peak at downtown St. Paul just after noon Wednesday and remain at that level for about a day, said Judson Freed, director of the county emergency management and homeland security. The level is about a foot higher than last year's spring peak, but more than 2 feet below what had been predicted only last week, due in large part to sub-freezing nights and dry weather.
Roads and park areas near downtown and along the river have been closed, but there have been few other complications.
The St. Croix River should peak Thursday and could close the Stillwater Lift Bridge.
"The projections have been running high, so hopefully we will be able to keep it open. Time will tell," said Adam Josephson, east metro manager for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
Ice remains on most of the St. Croix, but rising water underneath has pushed the ice to the bottom of the Lift Bridge. Ice won't threaten the bridge unless it breaks and collects on the upstream side instead of floating underneath, Josephson said.
Upstream on the Minnesota
The river at Mankato is expected to drop 2 feet by Friday before rising again slightly. It peaked at Savage Tuesday. Except for sand-bagging and some road closures and other flood preparations, there have been few complications.
Downstream on Mississippi
Crest predictions for Hastings, Red Wing and other cities beyond the metro area aren't alarming.
"Once you get out beyond where the St. Croix [River] comes in, the flood plain gets pretty wide. It takes a lot of water to raise that," Cooper said.
In the Red River Valley
Small tributaries are open and running, but the north-flowing Red itself remains capped by ice from its headwaters at Breckenridge, Minn., to the Canadian border. Once it breaks, it has a 45 percent chance of reaching the record level set in 2009. Both Moorhead and Fargo are planning to distribute sandbags to critical neighborhoods later this week.
There is still up to 6 inches of water stored in snow in places along the Red River Valley.
"Watchful waiting is what we're doing right now," said Mike Lukes, hydrologist in the Grand Forks office of the National Weather Service. The weather outlook calls for continuing cool and dry conditions, a bit of precipitation this weekend, followed by mostly cooler-than-normal temperatures into mid-April.
"But things happen," Lukes said.
Staff writers Rochelle Olson and Kevin Giles contributed to this story. Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646