Scientists predict very heavy spring flooding in Minnesota

(AP) — The sun has come out and the mercury has passed the freezing mark in most parts of Minnesota. But signs of spring that once were cause for celebration bring a sense of foreboding this year.
Scientists at the National Weather Service say the water content of the snowpack is so high they had to change the scale they use to measure it. Their remote sensing plane that flies over much of the state continues to bring back data that has veteran hydrologists shaking their heads in disbelief.
“Above three inches of water in the pack will get you some flooding,” said Tom Carroll, director of the National Operational Remote Sensing Center in Chanhassen.
“But now we’ve got large chunks of territory that are five to six inches, and some are six to seven inches,” he added. “And up on the Iron Range we’ve got seven to eight inches. That’s a bunch and it’s got to go somewhere.”
Figuring out how much water and where it will go is the job of National Weather Service hydrologist Gary McDevitt, who will use Carroll’s data and the long-term weather forecast.
McDevitt warns people not to be complacent because the snow in their front yard is melting and the river in their back yard hasn’t risen yet.
“There’s still an awful lot of water out to the west of you, and that will be the most overpowering element,” he said, referring to snowpack in western Minnesota.
Federal, state and local officials are gearing up for what they see as the inevitable. Authorities in Grand Forks will begin filling about 500,000 sandbags this weekend, and aid agencies like the Salvation Army have begun raising money.
Residents who have experienced flooding in the past are advised to start their own preparations. Television commercials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency urge homeowners to buy flood insurance, and local authorities are calling for volunteers.
Some residents are ahead of the game.
“We built a dike all around our property that’s one foot higher than the crest in ’93,” said Sue Bienfang, a hobby farmer who lives near Henderson in south-central Minnesota. “We hope that takes care of it.”
Caroll and McDevitt on Friday will release the latest data and their predictions for the expected ’97 flood. The Bienfangs will know if they need to add more to their new dike.