Monday, June 23, 2014

The 2014 Minnesota River flood

And so it has begun again. I could see it coming nearly two weeks ago. It simply hadn't stopped raining this spring since the snow melted. Then on Saturday, June 14th much of Minnesota experienced torrential rainfall for most of the day. I believe that final total was approximately 4 inches at my house. This, coupled with even heavier rainfall upstream on the Minnesota River drastically increased water levels on the already high river.

The forecast did little to make the outlook more favorable. The first half of the upcoming week was predicated to be humid and stormy with heavy rainfall again predicted. And the predictions were right. It rained Monday and Wednesday. The worst, though, was Wednesday night. The river valley community I live in received six or more inches or rain overnight (the actual totals ranged from 6 to as high as eleven inches of rain).

I awoke Thursday morning knowing that I had heard some thunder overnight and that it had likely rained again. I was totally unprepared for what I saw as I looked out the second floor bedroom of my house at the creek which runs alongside my property. I was expecting a foot or so of water in it because it has kept raining for what seemed like months. Instead I saw about five feet of water in it. I was shocked. I turned on the news to see reports of flash floods and astonishing rainfall amounts. This wasn't looking good.

I was in for a shock as I made my way across the Minnesota River on my usual bridge of Minnesota Highway 19. It would be the last time crossing there for possibly three weeks. About a mile after the river, as the road curves and begins its way up out of the valley through the tree-lined bluffs, I encountered flashing lights from MnDOT trucks and the first of three mudslides. At least one lane was open as traffic took turns navigating the trees, sand, grass and mud.

As I turned north of U.S. Highway 169 I figured that I had seen the worst. I sped along at 75 miles per hour until I again saw flashing lights and, this time, water. The southbound lanes were completely submerged under at least a foot of water and the northbound lanes were partially under water. Traffic squeezed slowly through the water on the roadway and sped up again. A mile or so later I encountered more water with the southbound lanes again submerged. In this stretch I had seen four vehicles stopped in the water. I suppose it was dark and raining heavily and they thought they were encountering inches, not feet, of water.

The scene repeated itself most of the way to work that day. Water lapping at the shoulders of highways. Fields covered in water. City streets impassable with water covering them.

The drive home, though, was worse. Water had closed both directions of U.S. Highway 169. I meandered through somewhat sketchy county roads and knew that I would have to take a rather lengthy detour once I crossed the Minnesota River to return home to my peaceful Minnesota River valley home. I encountered washed out roads where roads had existed a mere twenty-four hours earlier. I came across more "road closed" signs than I thought could ever exist. Again, more roads submerged under flood waters and people manning tractors, pumps, road graders, loaders, backhoes and excavators already beginning the clean-up process.

It also marked the official beginning of this particular flood as the first television news truck, this time from KMSP FOX 9, did a live report from the levee as the reporter swatted away mosquitoes.

The fun, though, was just beginning. Friday brought scores of dump trucks as excavation of the hundreds of tons of gravel from the bluffs above this small Minnesota River town which had been deposited in creeks, streams, drainage ditches and parks which do double duty as ponding areas during floods. All day the volunteer firefighters worked to hold back water during the excavation and clean-up process as the moved barricades and sprayed mud and gravel from the city's paved streets. It was a different story, though, as the Minnesota National Guard rolled in to town shortly after 7 PM along with the remaining Minneapolis-area television stations (KSTP, WCCO and KARE). The coverage included the inevitable rising waters, the National Guard being brought in for levee patrol (it is a federal levee after all) and the mudslides which had destroyed two houses just outside of the city limits.

I took breaks from my own construction project during the day on both Friday and Saturday to watch city crews, construction companies and the volunteer firefighters continue to clean up the mess left from the torrential rains. All that remains now is the still rising water which is predicted to crest Wednesday and then slowly recede leaving the city I call home rather isolated from the world for about two more weeks.

It could be three years before this all happens again or it could be a decade. The fact is, though, that it will definitely happen again. This year's crest is predicted to rival that of the fall 2010 flood which broke what many considered to be the benchmark for all floods on the Minnesota River -- the 1965 spring flood which nearly wiped out many communities along the Minnesota River. The levels of the floods are increasing and so is their frequency. Like my neighbor who has lived in his house for 47 years said, this is the new normal.

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