Relentless thunderstorms released torrential rain across northern Minnesota adding to swollen rivers, washing out roadbeds and threatening a wastewater treatment plant.
Mother Nature turned on a faucet she appears reluctant to turn off. A long trail of thunderstorms created nearly non-stop lightning in the lakes area late Tuesday and into the early morning hours Wednesday. Sheets of rain fell on soil already saturated with repeated rainfall.
At the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport, 4.13 inches of rain was recorded in the last storm. The rain gauge at the Minnesota DNR collected 4.41 inches of rain between 8 a.m. Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon. The National Weather Service reported radar estimates found 3 to 7 inches of rain fell across the lakes area in the last 24 to 48 hours.
Rain-sodden soils led to a landslide of earth and fallen trees at the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area (CCSRA), closing the landmark road to the popular overlook above the mine pits. The road was recently renamed Miner’s Mountain Road.
“That road is not there,” said Jennifer Lust, CCSRA parks worker. “We’ve got a couple of pretty significant things to deal with.”
Lust said local measurements from an area resident pointed to a rainfall of more then 5 inches. It’s unknown when the well-used overlook road may be cleared and ready for use.
Mountain bike trails are also closed until crews can get in and see what they can repair by hand and what needs bigger equipment to clear.
The Mississippi River at Aitkin is expected to rocket its way to 20.5 feet, reaching major flood status and just 2 feet shy of the city’s record flood in May of 1950. If the river reaches 20 feet in Aitkin, it will surpass historic flood crests in 1905, 1916, 1944 and 1948. Flood stage begins at 12 feet.
Wednesday, Gov. Mark Dayton declared a state of emergency following storm damage in eight counties, including Aitkin.Kathy Brophy, Aitkin city clerk, said the heavy rains left the wastewater treatment plant struggling to keep up. Crews were using pumps and sandbags at the treatment plant overnight. Aitkin residents were asked to restrict use of sewer and water by holding off on laundry loads or washing dishes. Brophy said they’ll go day-by-day now and see what happens with water levels.
“It’s safe to drink the water,” Brophy said. “People are also concerned about the river levels. Our biggest exposure is over the treatment plant.”
Brophy said the city hasn’t had water levels like this in 40 to 50 years. Basements were flooded in Aitkin and multiple roads washed out or underwater in the county. The weather service noted about a dozen people were stranded in their homes in Sprang Township near the West County Line Road in the southern part of Aitkin County.
If the Mississippi River reaches 20.5 feet as predicted, portions of Highway 169 north of Aitkin will be impassable. At 19 feet, a transformer station will need emergency protection. At 18 feet, the sewage plant will be inoperable, the weather service reported. The prediction is for the river to reach 20.5 feet by Saturday morning and stay at that level through the weekend.
“I really don’t know what to expect,” Brophy said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported reservoirs are rising rapidly. Big Sandy Lake near McGregor is expected to rise two to three feet in the next few days.
Cass County also reported roads underwater in the Crooked Lake, Thunder Lake and Wabedo townships. Flooding is expected to continue to be an issue for several days as rain makes its way through watersheds.
The Corps reported Gull Lake is at an elevation of 1,194.4 feet with the dam open. On May 30, the lake crested at 1,195.09 feet after an 8-inch rainfall. Gull Lake is not expected to rise to the May 30 level after the most recent rain.
Flood warnings remain in effect for the Mississippi River at Aitkin, Brainerd and Fort Ripley.
Significant rises in the Mississippi River near Brainerd are forecast in the next few days. One home along the river will be threatened if the river rises to 16 feet, up from a level of 13. 3 feet Wednesday afternoon. Three homes are in danger of flooding near Fort Ripley if the river rises to 13 feet. The river at Fort Ripley was at 9.4 feet Wednesday.
John Bowen, Crow Wing County emergency management director, said there were numerous roads underwater and washed out, with crews out assessing damages.
“We have a lot of roads that are closed with water on them right now. We have a lot roads that are washed out,” Bowen said. “The river is going to rise quite a bit in the next few days. We are looking at a lot of water coming.”
Storm damage was largely limited to a few trees down along with power lines. Highway crews were out most of the night clearing roads, Bowen said.
Bowen was in the Trommald area checking on the Black Bear Miller Lake Levee and looking at getting pumps in place. Bowen said Graphic Packaging in Crosby was also utilizing pumps.
At the levee, the rain and rising Mississippi River was a setback. Miller Lake rose 6 inches overnight. The question now is how long will the river remain this high. Until the river drops below the lake level, homeowners won’t get relief by opening the gate and letting water flow to the Mississippi River.
“We’re back to square one,” said Pat McDermott, who woke this morning to find sections of his dock scattered along the shoreline.
“Our concern now is if we are going to get any more rain,” McDermott said.
If the Mississippi River stays high, McDermott said, they’ll be back to using pumps to try to keep the lake levels from rising and threatening homes.
Homeowners are now worried about septic systems and contaminating water wells. The state reports people should consider their private wells are contaminated if the well casing was under water and well water shouldn’t be used for drinking or cooking until it systems are flushed out, disinfected and water tested for contamination.
A side effect to the rain also has been relentless, swarming mosquitoes.
“They are the worst we’ve every had in our lifetime,” McDermott said.
With more rain in the forecast and more mosquitoes to hatch, relief from either situation is yet to be seen.