This is probably one of those instances where it's too tempting to take a couple of comments on social media too seriously, or assume that the people making those comments are particularly scholarly or otherwise bring a certain level of expertise to the table when it comes to the subject on which they are commenting.
But, still, when the Times last Thursday ran a story based on an interview with longtime City of Crookston Public Works Director Pat Kelly and featured with it some photos showing just how high the snow is piling up from one end town to the other, the reaction was big, far bigger than for a typical story. Kelly said he hadn't seen snowbanks and snow drifts this high since the mid-1990s and the record-breaking winter of 1996-97 that preceded the record-breaking flood of 1997.
No, Crookston didn't flood that spring. A combination of luck, incredible effort and determination on the part of hundreds and hundreds of volunteers, and relentless pounding on an ice jam with a backhoe until it finally gave way at the fateful moment, kept the Red Lake River from flooding one and maybe more low-lying neighborhoods. But we all know other people flooded that spring, from Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, to overland flooding to the south that devastated many homes that are either built up on mounds today, or lined by ring dikes.
The reaction to the story based on Kelly's comments included a fair amount of borderline panic, so this editorial in this space today seeks to nip some of that uneasiness in the bud.
There's very little chance there will be a flood in Crookston this spring. Of course, that's probably an unwise blanket statement to make, but the fact remains that the community today is protected to a crest of up to 30 feet of the winding river through town by a certified levee system that didn't exist in 1997. What existed in 1997 was awful, a "temporary" levee system that had been asked to hold back the river through countless high water events for around three decades.
Crookston is well protected from high water today and that fact is worth celebrating.
Yes, we are on a serious stretch of severe winter weather. And, yes, we're only entering mid-February, meaning that a lot of snow – and heavy, moisture-laden snow that typically falls in late winter – could still pile up over the next month or two. But, we need to keep things in context. We've received essentially an average amount of snow so far this winter, maybe a bit more. We’ve had several snow events and severe storms of late, but that doesn't change the bottom line: This winter so far isn’t flirting with 1996-97 levels.
What possibly sets this winter apart from most is its length. We got hammered with snow and a major storm in October, well before even Halloween. Much of it melted, of course, but unusual weather conditions like that – lots of snow falling barely into fall and blown around by a bone-chilling wind – sure has a way of making the winter excruciatingly long, and making people a bit stir crazy. While some people are a bit on edge and the banks are tall and the drifts are high, there's not much more to it than that.
We have a ways to go, and March is probably the most unpredictable month of the year on our calendar when it comes to weather. We could get a bunch of storms and snow, or we could have a nice early thaw. Who knows? What we do know is that we are protected by a sweet levee system now. In 1996-97, such a level of protection was a pipe dream.