Weather forecasters, public works crews, property owners and local leaders across Minnesota kept a careful eye on rivers Wednesday as water levels continued to rise.
Heavy rain Wednesday and Thursday will only exacerbate spring flooding, said Paige Marten, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Chanhassen. With an inch or two of precipitation possible over 24 hours, river crests may be higher than originally forecast and the high, rushing water could stick around longer.
"More rain will not help," Marten said.
The Mississippi River through St. Paul and downstream in Hastings was rising and expected to reach even higher by next week. In Stillwater, the St. Croix River was about 2 feet above flood stage. And in Delano, Minn., the Crow River was expected to crest Wednesday at 19.19 feet — nearly 3 above flood stage.
Other rivers seemed to have peaked and started to slowly recede, according to the Weather Service. The Sauk River near St. Cloud crested at 8.17 feet Monday and was on its way down. The Rum River in Anoka hit 10.6 feet Wednesday afternoon, with levels expected to drop to just over 5.6 feet by the middle of next week.
In Duluth, St. Louis River flooding had begun to recede. A campground in the Fond du Lac neighborhood was covered in water Tuesday and river levels remained high, but St. Louis County mid-week had reopened 26 of the 46 roads it closed.
In Stillwater, the St. Croix was several feet below the top of an emergency berm that public works staff and volunteers built last month. Upstream in Osceola, buildings at the Osceola Landing were half submerged. Just north of there, in Taylors Falls, a city riverwalk was submerged by fast-moving water.
"It looks a lot better than it was," said Kevin Gruber, Taylors Falls Public Works superintendent . The waters had receded a foot or two since Monday, he said.
In a spot where the river narrows just south of the Hwy. 8 bridge, water churned and rolled in an impressive series of large rapids that Gruber said reminded him of the whitewater he's rafted in Colorado. "It's crazy," he said.
While this year's floods won't rival those that set records in 1965, they're notable, Marten said.
"We have not had flooding like this in years," she said.
Gov. Tim Walz held his second flood briefing of the season Wednesday, where officials cautioned people to stay away from floodwaters and be prepared if they use private wells. They also mapped the continued rise of rivers across the state.
In Delano, extensive flood mitigation infrastructure was working as intended, said City Administrator Phil Kern. The community has been building levees and floodwalls since a devastating flood in 1965, he said.
A 3-foot-high removable floodwall near downtown is the most recent piece of infrastructure installed to protect downtown.
"Thankfully, or un-thankfully, we have a lot of practice with this, because the river comes to this level seemingly, lately, every two or three years," Kern said.
Before the levees were built, remembered Delano resident Sharon Wahala, flood waters from the Crow River would pool in downtown shops. She was happy to see the levees and floodwall deployed.
"This is a life saver," she said, pointing to the metal floodwall.
As the river crested Wednesday, residents walked riverfront trails, watching the fast-moving water and taking photos. Dick Theis of Hamel was struck by the change after last year's drought.
"Six months ago, there was hardly any water," he said.
After a winter of record-setting snowfall, melting snow and rain is flowing through tributaries across the state. If those smaller waterways are going to flood, it is happening now, said Dan Hawblitzel, the meteorologist-in-charge for the Twin Cities National Weather Service.
That water is being channeled into major rivers, including the St. Croix, Mississippi, Minnesota and Red River of the North, Hawblitzel said, and more locations along those rivers are expected to see major flooding over the next week.
"Those are the ones that are going to be highly dependent on what we see with this current system [of rain] as well as any potential precipitation coming in the week ahead," Hawblitzel said, adding, "We cannot rule out significant enough rainfall to cause a bump in the rivers primarily along and downstream of the Twin Cities."
St. Paul is preparing for major flooding of the Mississippi, which hit 15.2 feet downtown Wednesday and was forecast to rise another 3 feet by Monday afternoon.
The city has closed parks and roads and temporarily relocated its impound lot, and for the first time since 2019, it's constructing a temporary levee on East 2nd Street between Jackson and N. Sibley, said Lisa Hiebert, Public Works spokesperson.
Downstream in Hastings, the Mississippi hit 17.7 feet Wednesday and was expected to rise another 1½ feet by Sunday afternoon, the National Weather Service said.
Nadine Platson, who was munching on a grilled cheese Wednesday at a bar in Hastings, said she's lived on or near the Mississippi her whole life. Her father was a lockmaster at Lock and Dam No. 2 in Hastings when she was young, and the family lived in one of two designated houses reserved for employees.
The impending flood is a popular topic for residents lately, she said.
"It's all they talk about, even at the ball games: 'How high do you think it will get?'" Platson said.
With flood stage at 15 feet, city officials have closed four streets and additional closures are likely, said Ryan Stempski, Public Works director. They're most worried about homes along the river on the east side of town, he said.
"It's not at a panic level," Stempski said. "Really, for us, we're used to and experienced with flooding, so we sort of have a playbook."
Across Minnesota, 19 cities, counties and tribal governments had issued local emergency declarations as of Wednesday morning, said Kevin Reed, interim deputy director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. That allows governments to free up resources to take protective measures or provide quick aid if needed, he said.
Those local governments are starting to assess potential damage, Reed said, and on Wednesday afternoon the Walz administration planned to start discussing recovery needs. They will be talking about where funding might come from and the potential for a state or presidential disaster declaration, he said.
State officials also offered safety warnings.
About 20% of Minnesotans get their water from private wells, and those users need to protect their drinking water from floodwaters that carry hazardous materials, said Cheryl Petersen-Kroeber, assistant commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health.
She said Minnesotans who anticipate flooding should store some water and then turn off their well pumps, or tape plastic over their well if they are short on time. Potentially contaminated wells need to be inspected, disinfected and cleaned, she said.
Walz, meanwhile, reiterated his message that people need to stay away from floodwaters.
"Please, please, please do not drive around barricades," Walz said, noting that the fast-evolving situation could mean a road that was clear could be covered in water within a few hours.
Star Tribune staff writers Erin Adler, Matt McKinney, Katie Galioto and Jana Hollingsworth contributed to this report.