It was shocking. We knew it was coming fast, but not THAT fast. The balmy temperatures last Thursday suddenly jarred loose ice that had been plugging up streams, culverts and field tile lines upstream and sent quite a bulge of water our way. It was amazing to see the sudden rise in the river. In the 48 hours from 6 a.m. Thursday to 6 a.m. Saturday, the Minnesota River jumped up just shy of seven feet. That’s a faster rate than we saw in 1997 when the river jumped up nine feet in three days.
The many variables and local factors with river flooding make forecasting those floods a real challenge. The National Weather Service takes river gauge readings, air temperature and precipitation into consideration as well as snow cover, water content in that snow, drainage enhancement and other factors into their forecasts.
Still, it can be an inexact science. What amazes this writer is how much flooding we have had this year, given the late start to winter. We had little or no snow until mid-January. Nearly all of our snowfall occurred during a six-week run that also had bitterly cold temperatures that kept any of that snow from melting.
That late start is a far cry from the experience we saw leading up to the record flood of 1997. The winter of 1996-97 started with a big ice storm in mid-November and didn’t let up though March. There was even a nearly two-inch rainfall in early January that winter followed by snowstorm after snowstorm.
All of that occurred over a four-month stretch, followed by sharply warm temperatures in early April, triggering that huge flood. Imagine what flood conditions would be like if the rate of snow we had this winter, from mid - January through February had been the case for the six weeks prior to that. It’s mind boggling to think about, and it tells us that it’s a very real possibility. Granite’s flood mitigation work in the previous 20 years has been a huge help in dealing with high water. This flood once again proved that.
However, a flood on the scale of 1997 or even 2001, would be a challenge. Something higher would send us scrambling for sandbags and more volunteers. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen anytime soon. Much thanks is owed to the City of Granite Falls staff, Granite Falls Fire Department and Yellow Medicine County staff who worked tirelessly and very effectively to prepare for this year’s flood. * * * * * * It’s hard to talk about flood fighting without thinking about the good work of volunteers and the support that a community needs to provide in times like that. We’ve seen plenty of that work in the past and we can never say thank you enough.
The list of folks to acknowledge for that work is long so it’s hard to single out just one person. However, it’s impossible to not note the passing this week of our community chef, Kenny Peterson. Ken provided planning, guidance and a Navy cook’s touch to thousands of meals for volunteers, employees, law enforcement personnel, firefighters, National Guard troops, contractors and others during the 1997 and 2001 floods and the 2000 tornado. He also fed thousands over the years as a restaurant owner and chief cook. Ken didn’t like the limelight and shied away from such frivolity at his 90th birthday celebration two years ago but many folks noted his talent and skill at the event, for good reason.
He cooked for thousands while in the Navy and he used that talent and skill to make tasty meals here for decades. And, in a nod to the future, he even gathered up his knowledge for feeding large crowds, putting together a large crowd cookbook using portions of 100. His simple formula of multiplying the recipe ingredients to fit the size of the crowd will be helpful for future community needs when we have another large influx of volunteers or need to feed folks at a large celebration. We’ll miss Kenny’s smiling face, his tough exterior, his generous portions, and his ability to cook and manage a kitchen. He was one of a kind.
Amid all the recent stories and concern about flooding was the recent good news that our own artist-in-residence, Ashley Hanson, had been selected to receive a Bush Fellowship. She was one of 24 chosen from nearly 700 applicants for the award and plans to use her time in the next two years to expand her art-based community work and to teach others about using that in their communities. That’s great news not just for Ashley but for our entire area and particularly for her base of operations at the Yes House, here in Granite. She represents a tour-de-force, with more energy and taste for community-building than many of us have ever seen. The Bush Fellowship will bring her work into wider focus and add to the notoriety of our region as a place to be and enjoy. Congratulations to Ashley. Good for her and good for all of us.