A newspaper column named River Ramblings can and should be counted on to mention something that is happening along a nearby river or two from time to time.
That certainly isn’t hard to do this time of the year with the spring snowmelt runoff in rapid progress. Last week’s blizzard thankfully gave way to much warmer temperatures and disappearing snow. Some of that resulting snowmelt water soaks into the ground but much of it finds its way into street gutters, ditches, storm sewers and streams that eventually spill into creeks and rivers and then into this part of the state’s largest water system, the Minnesota River. When that happens, the complexion of the river changes and takes on a whole new look. Our checkered history with flooding has taught us plenty about that. The snowmelt runoff comes from a regular run of snow that started in late February and has fueled runoff in amounts that have caused our local streams and rivers to swell. That all ends up in the Minnesota and the river’s been rising each of the past several days.
The Minnesota River on Wednesday morning was at 885.34 feet (above sea level) at the gauging station near the Highway 212 bridge. Barring the unforeseen, the Weather Service’s flood forecast model shows the Minnesota River climbing about one more foot, cresting at 886.5 feet on Sunday morning and staying there for a few days. That level or “stage” is at the lower end of what the Weather Service refers to as the “Action Stage”, which is at 886.5 feet. Their graph refers to “Minor Flood Stage” as beginning two feet higher, at 888.5 feet.
I think of flood stage as being when water actually begins to creep up onto the ally surface just below the footbridge, something that may happen by the end of this week. Of course any rainfall we get this week or next will affect the river stage.
The expected crest of the Minnesota River in Granite this year would make it the 20th highest recorded river level (stage) here. The earliest dates on the list of highest river stages are June 25, 1919, when the river crested at 894.24 feet (making it the fifth highest flood ever recorded here) and April 4, 1917 when the crest reached 891.74 feet (the 11th highest flood recorded here). Certainly there were other high floods prior to that, particularly in 1881, but none were officially measured or recorded. The highest recorded flood here, of course, was on April 7, 1997 when the river crested at 899.84 feet.
A drive up the river at Monte shows the Minnesota River at Minor Flood Stage and upstream, the same thing on both branches of the Lac qui Parle River near Dawson and still climbing. However, both the Pomme de Terre River at Appleton and the Chippewa River east of Milan have apparently crested and are starting to drift downward. Of course, they both flow downstream toward Monte and Granite.
The gauging station for the Yellow Medicine River, which is located a couple of miles upstream from where it flows into the Minnesota River at Upper Sioux Agency State Park, is still climbing and minor flooding is occurring around Hanley Falls.
In Monte, the Minnesota River is expected to climb nearly another foot and crest on Friday at what the Weather Service calls “Moderate Flood Stage”. So, how can there be a Moderate Flood Stage expected in Montevideo while there isn’t even a Minor Flood Stage expected just downstream in Granite? After all, the water is flowing toward Granite and should also cause a flood here too. Correct?
While that always seems to puzzle a few of us, the key to understanding this is realizing that a flood is really defined by what is impacted by the high water at, or near, a river gauge. In Monte, there are several low elevation houses and businesses remaining in place, which are, of course, impacted by higher river levels. In Granite, fortunately, we don’t have that problem because we have completed much of our flood mitigation work and either removed or protected residences and businesses that could be impacted by high waters.
In other words, while the same river water that flows through Monte will also flow through Granite, at the expected river stage and flow, there is expected to be little or no damage here in Granite. For that, we are very fortunate.
Along with high river flows, one of the surest and most anticipated signs of spring is the annual opening of the Kiwanis Club’s Popcorn Stand in downtown Granite. That happens each May 1st, which is next Tuesday evening.
There are years when it’s been warm and sunny and years when it’s been cold, windy with even some snow flurries, but folks always seem to turn out for the popcorn stand’s opening night. Next Tuesday looks to be a decent early spring day with weather that’s perfect for the season’s first taste of that wonderful popcorn.