Minnesota's weather whiplash, from seemingly endless snow to shorts, has marked the coming of flood season. And local and state leaders are on edge.

As cities fill sandbags and close roads, weather and emergency management experts gathered Thursday to warn Minnesotans of what's to come. Meanwhile, legislators bolstered the state's disaster fund to ensure relief dollars are ready.

"We are going into the heart of our flood season," said Twin Cities National Weather Service meteorologist-in-charge Dan Hawblitzel. "With this rapid warm-up, this rapid three-day-long summer we've got, that snow is rapidly melting and that snow has got to go somewhere. And it's going right into the rivers around the state."

Places along the Mississippi, Minnesota and St. Croix rivers are poised to reach flood levels in the next few days and crest late next week, according to a National Weather Service projection. It showed the Red River facing moderate flooding over the next couple of weeks.

Hawblitzel, along with Gov. Tim Walz and others who will help Minnesota navigate the flood season, held a news conference to highlight areas of concern in the state and their plans to respond. They warned Minnesotans to stay away from rivers, avoid driving through floodwater and get flood insurance if needed.

Minnesota has the lowest percentage of households with flood insurance of any state, said Department of Natural Resources flood plain manager Ceil Strauss. In part, that's because fewer people in Minnesota live in flood plains compared to other states, she said, but the number of people covered here has dropped in recent years as premium costs climbed.

"As we're seeing bigger and bigger storms and floods in more areas, we'd like people be more aware of their risk. Because we should have more people with flood insurance," Strauss said.

As experts forecast flood locations and warned individuals to be cautious, the state Senate was voting on $40 million to replenish the state's nearly-empty disaster assistance contingency account.

The bill, which still needs the governor's sign-off, will provide the biggest influx of cash in the fund's history.

"When you have a disaster, you are looking at infrastructure. And this is infrastructure that has to be replaced," said Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, who helped create the fund nearly a decade ago. "You are looking at roads, you're looking at bridges, you're looking at sewers, you're looking at water systems. ... The money goes fast."

Communities across Minnesota regularly seek dollars from the state account after floodwaters leave behind heaps of waste and costly damage, or when they have been hit by a tornado or other storm.

Separate from the relief dollars, communities from Moorhead to Roseau to Forest Lake are asking legislators for millions more to prevent flood damage in the years to come.

Walz visited Moorhead, in the flood-prone Red River Valley, last week to talk about mitigation. His proposed infrastructure spending and borrowing plan includes $48 million to prevent future flood damage.

Half of the money Walz proposed would provide grants to local governments for levee construction, pumping stations, removal of at-risk structures and other projects to reduce flood risks. The other half would be specifically designated to wrap up a handful of flood mitigation projects in Moorhead.

"Anything we can do to harden our infrastructure, to prepare for these things ... we're going to have to think about this in all the construction we do, from how we build roads and bridges to how we think about our houses," Walz said Thursday.

The spending proposals will save money in the long run and prevent "anguish" in communities, the governor said. Moorhead City Engineer Bob Zimmerman echoed that message.

"It's much more economical to address these issues up front, get permanent mitigation in place, than try to clean up the mess after an event," Zimmerman said. "For every dollar you spend in advance, it saves you $6 or $7 down the road in damages avoided."

Communities are facing "uncharted territory" this season, he said. The near-record snowpack and late thaw has city officials concerned, but the dry soil headed into the winter could help mitigate effects.

"There's no lobbying like a good flood event" to compel leaders to shell out dollars for prevention, Zimmerman added.

Many communities' aging sewer and water infrastructure can't handle challenging weather, said DFL Sen. Aric Putnam of St. Cloud. He pointed to a street in his city, which ambulances and fire trucks use regularly, that floods every year. He said lawmakers are considering numerous water-related projects as part of a big infrastructure funding package.

While the fate of mitigation projects remains uncertain as legislators continue to debate infrastructure spending, the House and Senate unanimously passed the $40 million for the disaster assistance contingency account.

State leaders last replenished the account with $30 million in 2021. Pelowski said a higher sum was necessary given inflation in construction costs. Along with providing aid to counties and municipalities, that money is also used as the local match for financial aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

There's around $750,000 left in the account, Putnam said, and Minnesota is using roughly $20 million from the fund each year for weather events. This year, he fears the demand could be substantially higher.

"Sandbags are already being filled," Putnam said on the Senate floor Thursday. "Our communities are being responsible. It's our turn."

St. Louis County officials hosted a press conference on Wednesday to issue warnings given the near record snow totals this season and uncharacteristically high temperatures this week.

"This fairly rapid snowmelt has led to a lot of water trying to make its way through our hydraulic system, some which are plugged with snow and ice," said Ketzel Levens, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Duluth.

Along the North Shore, the biggest impacts will be seen on gravel roads and areas with poor drainage. More precipitation is expected this weekend, Levens said.

Officials said they had delivered loads of sand and 10,000 sandbags to be filled and palleted by inmates at the Duluth Federal Prison Camp and Northeast Regional Corrections Center that can easily be taken to spots where they are needed.

City works is in the process of attempting to clear 3,000 culverts and 11,000 catch basins in the city, according to Pete Johnson, Duluth's assistant fire chief.

Staff writer Christa Lawler contributed to this report.