Upper Midwest flooding

Floods still coming -- but not quite yet

  • Article by: MATT MCKINNEY and BOB VON STERNBERG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 26, 2011 - 10:53 PM

In Delano, the Crow rose toward a crest, but not as high as had been feared.

Another day of waiting.

Temperatures that stayed below freezing Saturday held off the flooding that is expected to swamp much of Minnesota this spring.

The National Weather Service warned Saturday that most rivers across most of the state are on the brink of flooding -- or already doing so -- and will remain in that condition for at least the next week.

The Crow River in Delano continued to rise Saturday and was expected to crest sometime Sunday. But at the Three Crows Café in that Wright County town, members of a bluegrass band kept plucking Saturday afternoon, even as, just out the café's back door, the Crow surged to within a foot of flooding them out.

As customers popped in to the riverside café, the mayor and assorted public officials kept a tense vigil outside along the riverbank, watching for ice jams that could cause the water to suddenly rise. A prediction early last week had the river rising as high as the devastating 1965 flood that washed through downtown, but by Saturday afternoon the cold weather had slowed the river's rise and perhaps prevented the worst-case scenario -- for now.

"We're kind of playing it by ear," said Shari Zimmermann, the café's barista, who was kept busy serving up coffee and hot chocolate for a steady stream of gawkers who had come to watch the river.

The Crow rose to 919.28 feet above sea level by Saturday afternoon, about a foot below last year's crest and 4 feet shy of the 1965 peak.

On Friday, town officials scrambled when the river breached the town's septic system and began flooding the sewage treatment plant. Fearing that the plant would be overwhelmed and cause numerous sewage backups, they sprang into action to seal off the pipe, said City Council Member Dan Vick. So far the flood damage has been limited to a few basements, he said.

A National Weather Service forecast called for river levels to drop through the week, but rain or more melt runoff could cause it to surge back up, said a wary Gina Coburn, owner of the Three Crows Café.

"The predictions have been very up and down," she said. She was heartened by Saturday's updated predictions, which showed the river cresting a foot below its peak last year, when she had to close because of floodwaters.

"Last year it was a sudden rise," she said. "We had to really scramble."

In St. Paul, where near-record flood crests had been predicted, the Mississippi River continued slowly rising Saturday, approaching what forecasters call a "major flood stage," which is expected to result in a crest by midweek. About the same time, the crest of the Minnesota River was predicted in Savage and Shakopee.

The Minnesota River was expected to crest Sunday at Mankato, a city protected by massive levees built after the disastrous flood of 1965.

Several hundred volunteers spent Saturday setting more than 20,000 sandbags along the bank of the Mississippi River in Hastings, where the river had just edged above flood stage.

A relatively quiet day had been preceded by dire warnings from weather forecasters that this year's flood season could be protracted and a potential record-breaker. The Weather Service said there still could be second, higher crests if there are heavy rains or if temperatures rise suddenly.

mckinney@startribune.com • 612-673-7329 vonste@startribune.com • 612-673-7184

  • about this series

  • An early spring and a rapid snow melt forced communities in Minnesota and North Dakota to quicken their flood fighting efforts.

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