'Good news to report': Early spring flood forecast says risk is low in Manitoba

A dry fall means Manitobans are facing a slim risk of flooding in the spring — at least for now.

Flood outlook based on soil moisture at the time of freeze-up

The flood risk for spring is low at this time, based on soil moisture levels, Manitoba Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler says. (CBC)

A dry fall means Manitobans are facing a slim risk of flooding in the spring — at least for now.

"We know that it's early in December, but the Hydrologic Forecast Centre's already hard at work preparing for spring," Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler said Monday. "​Today, we have mostly good news to report."

He and Fisaha Unduche, the province's chief flood forecaster, released the 2017 fall conditions report on Monday. It gives a flood outlook based on soil moisture at the time of freeze-up.

Moisture in the ground at the start of winter will impact spring run-off. Those levels this year are normal to below normal in the watersheds of most Manitoba rivers, Schuler said.

River levels in Winnipeg are lower than normal heading into the winter freeze-up. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

In fact, it is "generally drier than the soil moisture observed in the past three years," he said.

Major floods in both 2009 and 2011 were preceded by wet fall seasons that left soil saturated heading into the winter freeze. Similar conditions last fall led to numerous communities declaring states of emergency.

Of course, the chance of spring flooding is entirely dependent on weather conditions in the coming months — and not just in Manitoba, Schuler said.

The flood risk in some watersheds will be determined by river flows from Saskatchewan and North Dakota, Schuler said.

The forecast from the federal environment department calls for above-normal precipitation for most of Manitoba and Saskatchewan into January. There are no clear predictions beyond that at this time.

The U.S. National Weather Service, however, forecasts above-normal precipitation for the Red River and Souris River basins for January to April.

"Manitoba's Hydrologic Forecast Centre works in collaboration with weather services and flood forecasters in neighbouring states and provinces to monitor regularly the winter precipitation patterns throughout these watersheds," said Schuler.

"We always have to be ready for a higher spring flooding risk if heavy winter precipitation occurs, or if a fast melt rate or heavy spring rainfall were to occur," he said.

Flows on many rivers in the province are near normal for this time of year, which bodes well for taking in the spring runoff, said Schuler.

"We're starting at a really good place," he said, noting the exceptions are the Saskatchewan, Carrot, Waterhen, Dauphin and Fairford rivers, which are above normal.