Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday activated the Minnesota National Guard to respond to spring flooding threats throughout the state, signing an executive order directing the Guard to work with local officials in affected areas.
“While COVID-19 presents an unprecedented challenge for our state, it is not the only emergency our first responders are preparing for,” Walz said. “Our National Guard remains ready to support our communities’ health, safety and public infrastructure.”
Heavy rains last fall left the ground saturated throughout much of Minnesota, increasing the risk of spring flooding as the winter snow melts.
Walz said the Guard would immediately assist the Marshall County sheriff and the northwest Minnesota community of Oslo by monitoring dikes and flood protection systems, and supporting potential rescue and evacuation operations.
The Guard will station 15 soldiers in the Oslo area to patrol dikes and assist with traffic control on flooded roads, said Lt. Col. Scott Rohweder, the Guard’s director of operations. If the flooding in Oslo grows more severe, Guard vehicles would be available to transport medications and other needed supplies.
However, Rohweder said he doesn’t foresee any need to evacuate Oslo residents.
The upper Red River Valley along the Minnesota-North Dakota border is the main area of concern, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). The Red River has spilled over its banks and covered as much as 100,000 acres of farmland, said Ryan Knutsvig, an NWS meteorologist in Grand Forks, N.D.
He said satellite images show an area along the river roughly 25 miles long and 7 miles wide — about 175 square miles — where land has been “overtaken” by water between Oslo and Drayton, N.D.
“There are other areas of farmers’ land that are partially covered, just not as much,” Knutsvig said. “There’s a lot of impact up there.”
The flood crest along the upper Red isn’t near the record levels of milestone years such as 1997, 2009 and 2011, Knutsvig said, but “it’s still in the major category and causing major problems.” He said the peak flood along the upper river could wind up among the top five or six recorded.
Elsewhere in Minnesota, the weather has been cooperating, as the state experienced a “perfect melt” similar to last year’s, said Chris O’Brien, an NWS meteorologist in Chanhassen. Mild daytime temperatures, combined with cool nights and little precipitation, have kept the water in check. Neither the Mississippi nor the Minnesota river is forecast to reach major flood stage.
“We’re watching everything closely, but we’re not in panic mode,” O’Brien said. “Everything’s going about as well as could be expected with the situation we were dealt. It looks like we may have dodged a bullet as long as everything stays dry.” Little rainfall is forecast through the weekend, he said, so that should keep things moving smoothly.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation reported minor flood danger in Itasca County. Hwy. 1 about 10 miles east of Effie has water up to the roadway, but traffic still can get through. A similar situation exists on Hwy. 65 about 12 miles north of Nashwauk, where water is up to the shoulder, but the highway remains open.
Motorists should check 511mn.org for road condition updates.