Record-setting snowstorms along with predictions for a colder March have increased the flood risk across the Red River Valley, the National Weather Service said last week.

“When we were looking at this in mid-to-late January we were near normal, and we were looking at the prospects for a warmer, drier March coming up,” said Gregory Gust, warning coordination meteorologist with the weather service.

“Then late January into February just went ballistically cold and snowy on us.”

Like the Twin Cities, Grand Forks, N.D., had its snowiest February on record, and Fargo was expected to meet or exceed its record for the month this week.

The climate prediction center, meanwhile, is now saying that March will likely be colder than normal.

“That means our snowmelt thaw could push later into March and finish up into April — so our risk of getting rain on top of snow increases,” Gust said.

A couple of warm days could wreak havoc by releasing water faster than the ground can absorb it.

The water content of the snow that has fallen since Oct. 1 is running up to 15 percent above normal across a large part of the Red River basin, in northwest Minnesota and northeast North Dakota.

Gust said Grand Forks and Fargo aren’t threatened yet. But he said outlying areas will see widespread water runoff, full ditches and water threatening to swamp rural roads.

Those cities may need to take flood-prevention measures to protect the bridges into town, he said.

Dan Browning

Blue Earth County

Farmer gets $15,000 tree-cutting fine

State road construction crews had to remove some trees for a project along Hwy. 22 north of Mapleton a couple summers ago. Knowing the trees were planted in honor of veterans, they pledged to keep as many as possible.

So when a dozen extra trees disappeared, their stumps covered with dirt and ditch grass, a construction supervisor suspected a nearby farmer who had once asked to install a field driveway in the area and was turned down.

Steven P. Trio denied cutting the trees when law enforcement first approached him, according to a criminal complaint in Blue Earth County. But after photographs and a note mailed anonymously to police showed Trio and a family member cutting down trees with equipment from his farm, Trio ultimately admitted to the deed.

Trio, 56, was sentenced last week to two years of unsupervised monitoring and ordered to pay $14,700 in restitution. A conviction won’t go on his record if he completes the sentence and pays the fine.

Pam Louwagie