'There’s no doubt about it': Minnesota flooding imminent, could rival 1965 levels

State and federal officials said they're preparing to get ahead of possible overflows
Gov. Tim Walz urges homeowners to prepare for natural disasters, purchase flood insurance at a meeting outlining forecast flooding across the state of Minnesota on Friday, March 15, 2019. Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service
Gov. Tim Walz urges homeowners to prepare for natural disasters, purchase flood insurance at a meeting outlining forecast flooding across the state of Minnesota on Friday, March 15, 2019. Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — Spring flooding across the state is imminent and potential damage could rival that caused by historic 1965 floods, which are remembered as the worst in a century in Minnesota.

Warming weather and resulting snowmelt along with possible snow and rain in the next several weeks will determine just how vast the damage could be, national weather experts said Friday, March 15. And in the meantime, state and federal officials said they're preparing to get ahead of possible overflows.

Officials advised Minnesotans to prepare for flood damage by purchasing flood insurance, setting disaster plans and following weather coverage and emergency notifications.

But beyond planning and preparing, there might be little Minnesotans can do besides wait, experts said.

"Whether we like it or not, we're the land of 10,000 lakes and every once in a while the water turns against us," said Joe Kelly, Department of Public Safety-Homeland Security Emergency Management director. "That means we know what we're doing when it comes to flooding."

At least one community faced a flooding situation this week after an ice jam in Jordan sent water crashing into a mobile home park. Other areas of the state saw more localized flooding of roadways and basements, Kelly said. Travel around Greater Minnesota became more challenging after snowmelt and rain made township roads more treacherous.

Kelly said state and local officials were gathering supplies and equipment, building clay flood protections and taking other preventive and protective measures.

And graver flooding threats remain on the horizon, National Weather Service Chief Meteorologist Dan Luna said. Snowpacks across the state hold 3.5 to 7 inches of water and as that melts into rivers across the state it could cause the bodies of water to crest.

“We will see spring flooding, there’s no doubt about it," Luna said. “We have a long ways to go and we better hope for really benign weather."

The next week shows positive signs, Luna said, as the forecast shows warming into the 40s and low 50s. Gradual warming with cooler evenings next week could help aid a "perfect thaw," he said, but faster warming trends and an inch of rain could result in flooding like that experienced in Nebraska and South Dakota.

The threat of flooding could linger into May, he said. Across the state, the chance of river waters exceeding flood levels was forecast above 90 percent. In St. Paul, there was a 15 percent chance flooding could meet or exceed water levels recorded during the historic 1965 floods.

Beyond river flooding, overland flooding could become a problem as water pools and has no place to go, Luna said.

Eight flood area engineers have been called into action to support communities anticipating flooding. They've been out in the last week working across the state, said Col. Sam Calkins, district commander of the Army Corps of Engineers.

In addition to using monitoring to pinpoint areas that could face the greatest risk of damage, Calkins said engineers have been drawing down water in reservoirs in the Minnesota, Mississippi and Red Rivers to free up space for snowmelt.

"We hope that none of this happens, but hope is not a plan," Gov. Tim Walz said. "That's why we're pre-positioning and we're prepared."

Walz urged lawmakers to send to his desk a bill that would appropriate $10 million for the state's disaster assistance fund to help fund sandbags and other flood protection efforts.

Areas likeliest to see flooding according to National Weather Service forecast:

St. Paul — Greater than 95 percent chance of exceedance of Mississippi River

Fargo — Greater than 95 percent chance of exceedance Red River of the North

East Grand Forks — 94.4 percent chance of exceedance Red River of the North

Red Wing — 92 percent chance of exceedance of Mississippi River

Morton — 91 percent chance of exceedance Minnesota River

Montevideo — 90 percent chance of exceedance Minnesota River

Mankato — 90 percent chance of exceedance Minnesota River

Granite Falls — 80 percent chance of exceedance Minnesota River

Crookston — 65 percent chance of exceedance Red Lake River