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Long wet spell could mean floods

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News Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Pioneer
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Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

ST. PAUL -- A decade and a half of wet weather means western and southern Minnesotans may face flooding this spring, but forecasters do not expect records like many communities saw in recent years.

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Chances of a record flood like Fargo-Moorhead residents fought last year are slim, but Minnesota officials and weather forecasters said that much of the state faces a flood threat. Dan Luna of the National Weather Service's Twin Cities office said ice jams are a particular concern, and they could happen on streams of any size.

Also, he said, communities that do not have levees and other extensive flood protection structures are in more danger.

In briefing reporters about the spring flood chances Friday, Luna said that weather just has been too wet.

"The main culprit of the flooding is just too much rain in the past several falls," Luna said, and the past 15 years have been wetter than in previous years.

Weather service and state officials warned that the Fargo-Moorhead area faces an 85 percent change of major flooding, but well under last year's record. And, they said, flood stage levels to not mean damage will be severe.

"We don't expect record flooding at any place," Luna said.

Added Minnesota Homeland Security Director Kris Eide: "It may not be the damage we saw last year."

However, Mark Frazier of the weather service's Grand Forks, N.D., office, issued a warning for those near streams. "We don't want people to be complacent."

"The difference is quite small" between a high but safe river level and a level that causes damage, Frazier added.

It remains too early for a firm flood prediction, but the long-term weather outlook calls for about normal precipitation and above normal temperatures, if only a little above normal.

Luna said that the severity of flooding will depend on things such as how fast weather warms up this spring and how much rain falls on frozen ground.

While chances that the Red River will exceed last year's record in Fargo-Moorhead are one in 10, Frazier said that the chances are only one in 25 that the Grand Forks level will top the 1997 record.

The concern is spreading beyond western Minnesota's north-flowing Red River.

"It will flood in Montevideo," Luna said, but there is only a 1 percent chance it will pass 2001's record.

Montevideo and other communities along the Minnesota River and its tributaries are getting special attention this year.

This winter's weather leads forecasters to expect more ice jams than normal. Luna said he especially sees a problem in the Red Lake River near Crookston and the upper reaches of the Minnesota River.

Eide said that the state will work with the federal Corps of Engineers if it appears possible to break up ice jams before they dam streams and cause flooding.

Streams have three to four times the water they usually carry this time of year, Luna added, although no flooding is occurring.

One good thing officials reported is that millions of dollars worth of flood prevention measures are working.

"We have avoided a significant amount of damage," said Kent Lokkesmoe of the Department of Natural Resources. "They are much better prepared,"

In Breckenridge alone, he said, $28 million of damage was prevented last year because levees and other projects were built in recent years.

Eide said that residents across Minnesota should look into buying flood insurance. Unlike in some years past, there is a 30-day waiting period before the insurance takes effect, she added.

Last year, Eide said, she heard about several people who bought flood insurance, but were flooded a day before the waiting period ended, so had no coverage.

Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.

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Pioneer staff reports
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