Recent storms up Manitoba's flood risk, forecasters say
Flood forecasts predict increased risk of major flooding in Red River valley
Officials released their updated Manitoba flood forecast on Thursday, calling for yet another increased risk of major flooding in the Red River Valley.
Manitoba’s Hydrologic Forecast Centre said the risk was inching up because the province was approaching the "unfavourable weather scenario."
The forecast said water levels on the Red River could be one foot higher than in 2009 from Emerson to Winnipeg.
Officials said more precipitation than normal was received in April, citing recent storms in North Dakota and the rest of the Red River Valley.
"There's a lot of anxiety out there. I want to be very clear," Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton said.
"There's a lot of people in the Red River Valley saying right now, 'Here we go again.' But the message to them is with the current range of forecast, yes, there will be somewhat higher levels than 2009, but we're not in the range of 1997 currently."
Forecasters said Manitoba could see a major melt and run-off as early as this weekend, if temperatures hold above freezing overnight.
The U.S. National Weather Service has already predicted the Red River will not crest in North Dakota until mid-May.
"It is expected that also at the border we will probably see a peak around mid May," said provincial flood forecaster Phillip Mutulu.
That could mean Winnipeg would see a late-May crest.
The Red River typically crests in mid-April, according to Ashton. He said a late-May crest would be historically late.
The latest the river has ever crested in Winnipeg is May 19, 1950.
As a result, there is also a big risk of overland flooding, Ashton said.
"It will be a bigger overland area than we would see in 2009 if we are a foot higher obviously," said Ashton.
"But again the mitigation means that many of the people living in the valley are fully protected."
Highway closures, rural evacuations
The province said the new forecast means Highway 75 will likely be closed and a detour will be in place, and a number of ring dikes in 18 Red River Valley communities will need to be partially closed.
In the province’s last forecast, evacuations for a few First Nations were predicted. Now, forecasters are saying a number of rural homes and farms will also need to be evacuated.
"With a likelihood, even a possibility of one foot higher than 2009, we are obviously looking at some additional evacuations being necessary as well," said Ashton.
In 2009, about 250 homes and farms in the Red River Valley had to be evacuated. Ashton said the province will have a better idea of how many evacuations there will be on Friday.
Portage Diversion will open
Those living west of Winnipeg will have to brace for the opening of the Portage Diversion.
The flood forecast said the diversion must be opened to mitigate the risk of ice jamming on the Assinboine River east of Portage la Prairie.
The flow range is expected to be between 9,400 cubic feet per second and 19,500 cfs depending on the weather and melt.
Officials expect the diversion will be opened for a much shorter time period than in 2011, unless the area sees a heavy spring and summer rainfall.
Those living north of Winnipeg in the RM of St. Andrews may be in better shape.
Darcy Hardman, emergency coordinator for the RM of St. Andrews, said the threat of ice jamming in the area is easing.
"Looking at the ice right now, there’s no actual movement of chunks of ice, so we’re looking really, really good, and we’ll keep monitoring to make sure that continues," Hardman said.
There is open water from Winnipeg north to Lockport, and Hardman said the ice is melting well as opposed to breaking up.
"It looks much better for us because the possibility of ice jamming has decreased, which causes us huge grief and then also the cooler temperatures are allowing us to get ahead of overland flooding," he said.
The province has stationed a sandbag machine in Brandon in preparation for high water on the Assiniboine. Crews are also setting up super-sandbags on 18th Avenue.
Mayor Shari Decter Hirst said the melt is slow, which is giving the city time to plan and prepare.
"We wanted a nice, slow spring, and we're certainly getting that."
Decter Hirst says her biggest fear is the temperature increasing dramatically.
Flood forecasters said even with an unfavourable weather scenario, flood levels were not expected to approach 2011 levels.
Fargo predicting record flood
Fargo residents got an updated flood forecast Wednesday afternoon, predicting a high chance of a major flood.
Communities along the Red River in North Dakota are all at risk, according to the forecast.
The US National Weather Service says there is a chance the flood will break 2009 record levels.
"It could be dramatic comparatively to what we’ve been seeing with these temperatures," said meteorologist Greg Gust, with the U.S. National Weather Service.
"A warm-up to the middle 50s [10-15 C] right now would be normal for this time of year but would be dramatic for this type of a flood season."
A heavy snowfall that came over the weekend exacerbated matters, driving up the probability of having a record flood to 40 per cent.
"This is uncharted territory. Snow water that is out there right now is sufficient for a big flood," said Gust.
He expects the river to crest in Fargo at the end of April.
For some like Margie Bailly, this will be her last time having to deal with a flood in Fargo.
Bailly lives right on the Red River and is expecting a letter this October from the city of Fargo to start the process of buying her out.
"It’s very bittersweet, it really is," she said. "We built this house, we raised three sons here. I think they’re having more trouble with it than we are. So it’s one of those little touchstones that won’t be here."
Bailly says that five homes south of hers have already been demolished because they are in the flood zone.