Flood prep in high gear as warm weather is likely to send rivers rising across Minnesota
Many parts of Minnesota are about to see long-overdue warm spring weather, with forecasters saying the Twin Cities could see highs in the 60s this weekend.
That’s welcome news for many in the state who are weary of what’s been a cold, wet spring. But for those who live in flood-prone areas, the quickly melting snow will send rivers rising — and time is running out to prepare.
At the sprawling Windmill Marina in Afton, Minn., on the west shore of the St. Croix River, some of the pleasure boats overwinter in the water — but most are stored on the shoreline.
Earlier this week on the boat launch ramp at the popular marina, the river lapped the shoreline as freezing rain pinged off a metal gangway leading to one of the docks. More precipitation adding to flooding concerns, following rain and snow last weekend.
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“We’re in full action stage at this point,” said the marina’s general manager, James Clemens. He said he’s more concerned about flooding now than he was a week ago.
“There’s really no good news,” he said. “Some of the preparations that we’ve already made, we’ll have to take those to another level.”
Craig Schmidt, the head hydrologist with the National Weather Service in the Twin Cities, said the worst-case scenario he projected less than two weeks ago stands. He said he’s done issuing long-term flood forecasts in this area for this spring. But Schmidt said that if he were to revise his most recent forecast, he’d increase the flood threat given the recent weather, and lingering snowpack.
“That threat remains well above normal,” he said. “And once we get some warmer temperatures coming up this weekend, we’ll get that melt started. You’re going to see the tributaries flowing. Everybody be careful out there, because water will be coming up — so be ready.”
For the St. Croix, that means a more than 80 percent chance of major flooding at Stillwater, where the city said it’s ready for that high water thanks to hundreds of volunteers, 12,000 tons of sand and a lot of heavy equipment.
Stillwater Public Works Director Shawn Sanders is overseeing flood preparations. He said he also thinks the chance of major flooding has increased.
“The snow that we did get over the weekend put a little more concern in my mind, and made us do a little bit more than we thought we were going to do a week ago. We’re building our berm a little bit higher because of that,” he said.
Back at the Windmill Marina in Afton, Clemens and his crew are moving boats that are stored on land that likely will be underwater in the coming weeks. They’ll either ride out the flooding on the river, or be towed to several safer places around town.
“Right now we’re facing launching what we can. And what we can’t launch before the flood waters, we will be transporting over land to high ground,” he said.
Clemens said he thinks all of the flood preparation and recovery work will push the long-awaited summer boating season on the St. Croix back by several weeks.
“We won’t return to normal until June. I would say it's going to delay us probably a month,” he said.
And Clemens said his marina likely will have to delay its profitable day launching business because the water will be so high for so long. That’ll mean the financial effects of this spring’s flood season may linger long after river levels recede.