Minnesota braces for historic flood season

After record-setting snowfall in February and a sudden thaw, Minnesota is bracing for potentially historic flooding this spring.

Most of Minnesota is under a moderate or major risk for flooding, according to the latest spring outlook issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The risk is concentrated along the Minnesota, Mississippi and the Red River of the North.

Several factors combined to cause heightened flood risk. February was an unusually snowy month in Minnesota, with many National Weather Service offices recording record snowfall amounts. This, coupled with well-below-average temperatures, left large amounts of snow on the ground—one to two feet across much of the state—by the beginning of March. Early flooding was then caused by rapid snowmelt combined with heavy spring rain. In some areas, ice jams are exacerbating the flooding. The risk is expected to be elevated into May, however.

Various roads have been closed, including Highway 41 across the Minnesota River in the Twin Cities, Highway 75 south of Madison and several closures along the Minnesota River between St. Peter and Henderson. Fifteen counties have declared local emergencies: Big Stone, Chippewa, Clay, Cottonwood, Jackson, Lac Qui Parle, Martin, Nobles, Norman, Ramsey, Rock, Traverse, Wadena, Wilkin and Yellow Medicine counties.

The Mayor of Moorhead declared a state of emergency in preparation for flooding, joining neighboring Fargo, N.D., and asked for volunteers to help fill about 150,000 sandbags to prepare for a worst-case flood scenario. Late winter and early spring have brought about one and a half to two times the normal amount of precipitation in the Red River Basin, especially for tributaries in northwestern Minnesota, the National Weather Service said.

The impact on ag is uncertain, although flooding and wet ground could delay planting; if water levels are high enough, it could reach stored grain. Much will depend on the amount of precipitation between now and early May, and the current outlook remains fairly dry.

Other Midwest states have already experienced catastrophic flooding which has killed at least three people. Gov. Pete Ricketts of Nebraska estimated livestock losses at $400 million and grain losses at $440 million in addition to other impacts. Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa estimated flooding had already caused $1.6 billion in damages. Some residents on South Dakota reservations spent nearly two weeks stranded by floodwaters. Minnesota won’t suffer the effects of Nebraska’s bomb cyclone, however.

Federal regulators issued a joint statement acknowledging “the serious impact of flooding in the Midwest” on banks and their customers and vowing to “provide appropriate regulatory assistance to affected institutions.”

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