The rivers are rising and a flood season begins this weekend that could set records and stretch through April.
First to crest are rivers in the metro area, swelled by a thaw that preceded recent cold weather, forecasters said Friday. Next up is potentially record-setting -- and repeated -- flooding along the Red River near Fargo-Moorhead.
"We're in this for the long haul. There's still a lot of water out there," said Diane Cooper, a hydrologist for the Twin Cities office of the National Weather Service (NWS). "We haven't even started melting the Upper Mississippi yet."
In Delano, where the Three Crows Cafe and Coffee House sits so close to the rising Crow River that no temporary levee can be built to protect it, owner Gina Coburn has canceled Saturday's live music and cleaned out the flood-prone storeroom.
The South Fork of the Crow River in Delano is expected to equal its 1997 record crest late Saturday or early Sunday. In addition, the Minnesota River in Savage and the Mississippi in St. Paul will see top-10 crests Thursday, but 6 to 7 feet below records set in 1965.
Still, with more snowmelt coming, St. Paul and other metro locales aren't breathing easy. Forecasters say they still have a 20 percent chance of suffering a top-five flood this spring.
The rising waters already are swamping areas along riverbanks and affecting local businesses.
The Frank Theatre company has canceled its Sunday afternoon performance of "Cabaret" on the Centennial Showboat, moored at Harriet Island in St. Paul. Harriet Island is projected to be nearly underwater by 11 a.m. Sunday. Wendy Knox, Frank Theatre's artistic director, said the show has been selling well.
'"Having to cancel Sunday is just heartbreaking," she said.
In Delano Friday afternoon, workers were using a backhoe to dislodge large chunks of ice that had jammed at the downtown bridge next to Three Crows. City Council Member Dan Vick estimated that water on the south side of the bridge was about 1 1/2 feet higher than the north side, behind the coffeeshop.
Near-records for Red
Along the still frozen Red River, Fargo-Moorhead now has about a 45 percent chance of floodwaters exceeding its 2009 record, and a better than 85 percent chance of a top-five flood. That outlook is based on a combination of water in the snow and ice, soil saturation and long-term climate patterns.
The outlook is similar for Breckenridge, Minn., where the Red is formed by the Otter Tail and Bois de Sioux rivers. Six of the eight highest crests in a 65-year period have come since 1997; there's about an 85 percent chance of a top-five flood this year.
In Grand Forks, devastated by flooding in 1997, flood predictions were raised about a foot Friday. But the chance of waters rising past new levees is very slim. Still, with subfreezing weather hanging on across the region, snow and ice will not melt until April, possibly pushing crests higher, longer, later -- or perhaps all three.
Preparations mean more than building levees and filling sandbags.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., toured sites in Stillwater and Mankato on Friday and said she's ready to work for federal assistance -- if it comes to that.
"We're hoping that all of this preparation pays off," she said. "But if for some reason Mother Nature beats us in a certain town, we want to be there."
Metro roads affected
State transportation officials have been scrambling in recent days as rising rivers in the metro area threaten to slosh over major roads.
Flood-related road closings meant some disruptions, which began Thursday night on Hwy. 169 between County Road 18 in Shakopee and Interstate 494 in Eden Prairie, as road alterations are put into place. Hwy. 169 crosses the Minnesota River along that stretch.
The alterations include adding a lane in each direction, closing some ramps and retiming traffic signals.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation says the changes should increase vehicle capacity while crossings of the Minnesota River on Hwys. 41 and 101 to the west are blocked by rising water.
Motorists should expect delays in the next day or two as the changes are implemented.
Hwy. 169 will be returned to its pre-flood condition as soon as Hwys. 41 and 101 can safely be opened.
Similar changes will be made this weekend to Hwy. 25, which crosses the Minnesota River and is the main road to Belle Plaine from the north. Work is expected to take several hours, starting Sunday morning, and will include lane re-striping and temporary traffic signals.
Staff writers Bill McAuliffe, Paul Walsh, Graydon Royce, Jim Anderson and the Associated Press contributed to this report. Taryn Wobbema is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune. James Walsh • 612-673-7428