Spring flooding is again a concern for area officials.
The National Weather Service in Duluth a week ago issued its flood outlook for the Mississippi River for Aitkin and Fort Ripley, listing a 90 percent chance for moderate flooding there.
The Cass County Sheriff’s Department is keeping a close eye on the Crow Wing River, which in 2009 and 2010 flooded its banks because of ice jams.
Kevin Kraujalis, meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the Brainerd area has an average of 7 to 10 inches of snow still on the ground with about 3 to 4 inches of water in the snow. The ground is already saturated, he said, thanks to heavy rainfalls this past fall.
“We had enough moisture locked into the ground for the winter due to rain and then we get an above-normal snowfall this winter,” Kraujalis said. “Those are the driving forces, the main reason why we’re in the situation we’re in for potential flooding.”
The flood stage for the Mississippi River in Aitkin is 12 feet, and the highest recorded water level is 22.49 feet in 1950. The weather service’s outlook projects a 90 percent chance the river will reach 12.8 feet, an 80 percent chance it will reach 13.3 feet, a 70 percent chance it will reach 14.3 feet, a 60 percent chance it will reach 14.7 feet and a 50 percent chance it will reach 15.3 feet. There’s a 10 percent chance the river could reach 18 feet and a 2 percent chance the river could reach 21.4 feet in Aitkin.
In Aitkin, the weather service outlook lists a 95 percent chance the Mississippi River will reach minor flood stage, a 54 percent chance the river will reach moderate flood stage and a 9 percent chance the river reaches major flood stage.
When the Mississippi River in Aitkin reaches 12 feet minor flooding of farmland occurs; at 13 feet some roads are covered with water and at 15 feet there’s minor flooding of lowland areas in the city of Aitkin. At 18 feet the Aitkin sewage plant becomes inoperable and at 21 feet portions of U.S. 169 are impassable and the city’s power plant needs emergency protection.
On March 1 the Aitkin County Board approved buying 40,000 sandbags for emergency management because of potential flooding.
At Fort Ripley, the flood stage of the Mississippi River is 10 feet and the highest recorded level is 14.15 feet in 1997. The weather service’s outlook projects a 90 percent chance the river will reach 11.1 feet, an 80 percent chance it will reach 11.5 feet, a 70 percent chance it will reach 11.7 feet, a 60 percent chance it will reach 12 feet and a 50 percent chance it will reach 12.2 feet. There’s a 10 percent chance the river could reach 14.8 feet and a 2 percent chance the river could reach 17 feet.
There’s a 98 percent chance of minor flooding and a 42 percent chance of moderate flooding of the Mississippi River in Fort Ripley.
At 11 feet the river in Fort Ripley causes minor flooding or rural areas near the city and at 12 feet the boat landing and parking lot at the public access are under water. At 16 feet the river would flood a downstream residence.
For the Long Prairie River in Long Prairie, where the flood stage is 6 feet, there’s a 90 percent chance the river will reach 7.3 feet, an 80 percent chance the river will reach 7.4 feet, a 70 percent chance the river will reach 7.5 feet, a 60 percent chance the river will reach 7.6 feet and a 50 percent chance the river will reach 7.8 feet.
For the Crow Wing River near Pillager records on flood stages and historic crests are not kept. Flooding the past two years has been less a product of runoff and more about ice jams along the river.
Kerry Swenson, Cass County Emergency manager, said officials in his county are hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. Sandbags are ready, as are Sentence to Serve crews and area firefighters to help fill them up. Swenson also has river watchers in the Staples, Pillager and Motley areas keeping an eye on things.
“If we have ice jams like we had the last two winters, God only knows what will happen,” Swenson said. “We’re expecting there could be some moderate flooding, certainly not like a Fargo situation, but we expect some overland flooding and road flooding. Nothing to a major degree but enough that it could create some problems for some people.”
Swenson said Cass, Crow Wing and Aitkin county officials intend to meet with officials from the DNR and Army Corps of Engineers regarding potential flooding and ways to alleviate it.
The key, Swenson said, will be what happens with the spring weather. Too warm too fast and there could be problems because of rapid melting, he said.
Kraujalis said the six to 10 and 10 to 14 day forecasts point to above normal precipitation with average temperatures.
“That’s why we’re kind of holding our breath here, that there’s nothing too above normal,” Kraujalis said. “I think we could handle slightly above normal temps and precipitation but anything more and it will definitely aggravate the situation.
“Hopefully it wont all melt all at once. As long we keep treading water here, stay within the normals, we should be OK.”
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5857.