So far so good.
After warning that much of Minnesota could face historic flooding this spring, meteorologists now are relishing a “pretty much ideal melt,” with neither rain nor sleet nor snow on the horizon to dampen that picture.
Warm days, cool nights and little to no precipitation have led to a gradual thaw across much of southern and central Minnesota, keeping floodwaters along the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers from overwhelming adjacent towns.
The crest is expected to begin moving downstream along the Minnesota River in the next several days with water levels dropping in its backwash, said Chris O’Brien, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service (NWS) Twin Cities office in Chanhassen. He cautioned that things could change abruptly if a big storm materializes because the ground is so saturated that it would be unable to absorb a fresh downpour.
“Any precipitation event will put us back into flood territory for the next month and a half or so,” O’Brien said.
For now, however, the only trouble seems to be coming from ice dams forming on smaller rivers and streams, and localized flooding caused by clogged drainage systems.
The Mississippi River could crest in St. Paul perhaps as soon as Thursday, O’Brien said Monday, adding that the water would remain high for several days after that. The Weather Service is predicting a crest of about 20 feet, well below the record 26.01 feet set in 1965.
St. Paul has closed Harriet Island Regional Park due to flooding, as well as Water Street, which skirts the Mississippi River across from the city’s downtown. Shepherd and Warner roads also are closed in places along the river.
Broad Street in Lowertown will be closed Tuesday as crews work to protect the Jackson and Sibley street underpasses off Kellogg Boulevard.
“Everything is looking as good as we can expect it,” said Rick Schute, St. Paul’s director of emergency management.
Schute said crews will erect a temporary floodwall made up of large square sandbags, per the city’s flood-action plan. The wall was used in 2014 and worked well, he added.
“So far, we don’t see anything unanticipated,” Schute said. “Mother Nature is cooperating.”
Pete Boulay, assistant state climatologist for the Department of Natural Resources, said the mild weather has done a good job of “eroding the snowpack” across central and southern Minnesota.
“Obviously, it’s encouraging to see highs above freezing and lows below freezing” in the forecast for the next week, Boulay added.
But he noted that a substantial amount of water remains in the snowpack across the Red River Valley.
Amanda Lee, a NWS hydrologist and meteorologist covering the Red River Valley from the Grand Forks office, said Monday that the rivers in the region are still largely frozen, though water was starting to move a bit at the juncture of the Bois de Sioux and Otter Tail rivers, which forms the Red River of the North, and in west-central Minnesota.
Highs have squeaked into the 30s and lower 40s, gradually breaking down the ice, with lows in the 20s and 30s, which makes for a controlled melt of the snowpack.
“Our temperatures have been awesome,” Lee said.
The biggest risk would be a sudden warm-up or rainfall, neither of which appears likely in the next seven to 10 days, she added.
“Everything is working out to be the best-case scenario — as of now,” Lee said.
Fish with caution
The Department of Natural Resources on Monday advised people to be especially careful when venturing across the ice that remains on bodies of water.
Warm weather and rainfall in some locations have resulted in slush and standing water on many water bodies, weakening the ice and making travel difficult and unsafe, the agency said.
Ice that has gone through the freeze-thaw cycle looks milky and is only half as strong as new, clear ice, the DNR said. Five ice-related fatalities have occurred in the 2018-2019 season.
“We’ve had reports of anglers falling through ice that was just fine an hour earlier — that’s how fast things can change,” said Lisa Dugan, recreation safety outreach coordinator for the DNR Enforcement Division.
The DNR also said Monday that it may close some state parks and trails and other outdoor facilities to protect infrastructure and the public.
It closed access to most of Fort Snelling State Park because of the rising Minnesota River. The agency lists park closures at mndnr.gov/closures.