Anyone familiar with Crookston knows that, after years and years of hard work and a lot of money, the vast majority of low-lying areas in town vulnerable to Red Lake River flooding are now protected from a crest of approximately 30 feet by a new levee system.
But, still, what a few short weeks ago was essentially considered a spring flood non-event for Crookston that would might not even require the activation of the city's emergency operations center or any ward command posts, has ramped up considerably.
The latest spring flood outlook issued Thursday by National Weather Service hydrologists project a 25 percent chance the Red Lake River in Crookston will reach a level of 24.4 feet, a 50 percent chance it'll reach 22.1 feet, and a 75 percent chance it'll crest at 20.7 feet.
"I'm pretty confident we'll be opening up the EOC and the command posts, and that's just if we continue with normal moisture and temperatures," Fire Chief/Emergency Manager Tim Froeber told the Times. "What they're talking about is below normal temperatures for the next couple weeks, which could mean an extremely fast melt in mid-April that could cause of a lot more problems."
There is the potential for some necessary sandbagging across the street from the American Legion on Ash Street, and at the edge of Central Park in order to protect the public library.
With a run of winter storms over the past several weeks, there's a lot of snowpack out there, and it has quite a bit of actual water in it. If that melts faster than it would in more ideal spring thaw conditions, hydrologists say, the runoff won't be able to soak into the frozen ground, which, right before freeze-up time last October, was saturated by a heavy rain. While the drought persists and sub-soils are extremely dry, the topsoil was wet at freeze-up, so it might struggle to soak in water from rapidly melting snow.
A rapid melt would likely increase the risk of ice jamming up on the curving, winding Red Lake River channel through Crookston.
"We're hoping for a nice, easy thaw here, but that's not what the forecast is looking like right now," Froeber said. "Hopefully, Mother Nature will be kind to us."