Minnesotans are getting hit high and low this winter.
First, ice dams piled up on roofs, threatening to chew their way into the attic. Now, a major storm moving across the state is expected to dump a couple of inches of rain on top of the snowpack and frozen ground, threatening to flood basements.
If you're living in a high-risk flood plain, it's probably too late to get flood insurance, and if you're on the edge of one, you may have just a day or two to buy it or it might not take effect in time, said Brent Hewett, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Chanhassen.
"We're definitely concerned," said Ceil Strauss, state flood plain manager with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
About 95 percent of the state's population lives in a community that participates in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), Strauss said, yet only a fraction pay for coverage. Just 8,332 policies were in effect in Minnesota at the end of January.
"We would encourage people to get flood insurance, especially if they're in a high-risk area," Strauss said.
However, with the spring thaw just around the corner, it might be too late. The program has a 30-day waiting period before a new policy takes effect, unless it was purchased along with a new mortgage.
The most recent flood forecast for Minnesota predicted significant flooding to begin the first week of April. The rain expected over much of Minnesota from Tuesday through Thursday will likely accelerate the melt, with flooding likely to begin in late March, Hewett said Monday.
"We're going to jump right into flood season," he said.
Buy, buy, buy
Gov. Tim Walz said his administration has been in contact with many mayors, and state agencies are already prepping them on the issue.
Walz said the message is: "Buy flood insurance, buy flood insurance, buy flood insurance."
Federal flood insurance can be purchased in nearly every Minnesota community. You don't have to live in a flood plain. In fact, six in 10 policies sold in Minnesota are in medium- to low-risk areas, Strauss said. Renters also can buy coverage through the program to cover their belongings.
Flood insurance covers overland flooding from rivers or lakes, intense storms and mud flows. It does not cover sewer backups or sump pump failures, though that coverage is available through riders on homeowner policies.
In recent years, sales of flood insurance have been declining because the rates have been increasing 18 to 25 percent a year, Strauss said. She recommends getting an accurate elevation measurement to see if it will reduce the cost. High-risk policies can cost thousands of dollars a year, depending on the coverage. Low-risk policies are substantially cheaper.
But don't count on a government bailout if you're flooded out and didn't buy insurance, Strauss said. While the president can declare a disaster area, it doesn't happen often and when it does, it provides little individual assistance. The last flood in Minnesota that led to a disaster declaration was in 2016 in Waseca; the average individual grant was $3,000. Presidential disaster declarations for damage to public infrastructure occur more often but homeowners can't tap into it.
Joe Stremcha, city manager in Springfield, Minn., said his city still hasn't recovered from a July storm that pushed the Big Cottonwood River out of its channel, flooding a city park and ball fields.
"Now, it's kind of looking like round two," Stremcha said.
The city considered moving the recreational facilities but the $20 million cost was too much for the town of 2,100 residents, so it's weighing mitigation costs of up to $4 million.
The Redwood River at Marshall already is nearing flood stage, said Glenn Olson, the city engineer and director of public works. He said residential areas should remain safe but he expects "significant" flooding of streets, catch basins and culverts. The city began clearing city streets curb to curb two weeks ago and on Monday began identifying clogged catch basins that need to be cleared.
Olson offered these tips to homeowners: Extend any downspouts to draw water away from the house; move furniture from the basement or away from basement walls that might seep; store items that might get wet in plastic tubs likely to float; and clear snow from around the foundation. Homeowners also should clear snow from their roofs, he said.
"Snow on the roof acts as a sponge and retains water, which is heavy," Olson said. "In the last five days we've probably seen more roof collapses than I've seen in the last 10 years. It's a real concern. Get the snow off your roof if you can."
Meanwhile, Minnesota lawmakers are pushing for tens of millions of dollars in additional disaster relief funding amid concerns that this winter's heavy snowfall could trigger flooding.
A proposal presented by Republican legislators Monday would appropriate $40 million to the Minnesota Disaster Assistance Contingency Account over the next two years. The fund, which local governments can use to cover disaster-related costs when the Legislature is out of session, was drained by costs related to floods in Brainerd and Duluth last year.
"At some point, we're going to see creeks overflowing, the lakes overflowing, the ponds overflowing and the rivers overflowing. We need to fund this account," said Rep. Tony Jurgens, R-Cottage Grove.
Proposals by Walz and state House Democrats would backfill the fund with $10 million. Republicans seeking the additional cash infusion argue that the appropriation should be increased. Their plan would direct $20 million to the fund this year and another $20 million in 2020. Any flood-related costs that come up before the Legislature adjourns in late May would need separate approval from legislators.
"We would rather have more money there and not need it, rather than have not enough money in there and wish we had more," Jurgens said, noting that the fund allocated $11 million for just two flood events last year.
The author of the House bill, Rep. Gene Pelowski Jr., D-Winona, said he also plans to amend his bill to increase the total funding sought by his version following a series of hearings on the topic.
"If we need to put more in, we'll put more in," Pelowski said.
Staff writer Jessie Van Berkel contributed to this report firstname.lastname@example.org 612-673-4493 email@example.com 651-925-5049