Oh, Wise Guru: Is it just me, or does the the Mississippi River look a little high right now? I understand last summer was a nonstop high-water extravaganza, but I thought everything would calm down once winter came along. Is that not the case? — Watching the Water.
Dear Water Logger: It doesn't take an eagle eye – of which there are many along the Upper Mississippi River, both bald and golden – to see that the water is, indeed, a bit high for this time of year.
The fine folks at the St. Paul District offices of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have noted that high water is, indeed, affecting parts of the Upper Mississippi River. Fortunately, the folks who control the locks and dams are on the job.
Unfortunately, there are forces beyond the Corps' control, so vigilance is vital as water levels from Winona to Guttenberg, Iowa, are flowing at historic levels this winter. In fact, the public along the stretch of river between those two towns should be on the lookout for localized flooding due to ice dams, the Corps recommends.
"The current river flows are at levels normally observed in late spring," the Corps noted in a statement. "Irregular temperatures have also prevented ice from forming in a stable way, which compounds the ice dam problem."
In fact, ice has blocked the river's normal flow, forcing water out of its banks and reducing the Corps' ability to manage water elevations.
“We have never in our record had these sustained high flows over the month of January,” said Dan Fasching, St. Paul District water manager for the Upper Mississippi River.
Furthermore, the weather forecast isn't bringing good news, according to the National Weather Service. High temperatures in the region will sit in the mid-20s most of the week and even climb into the low 30s this weekend. That, combined with some precipitation expected this weekend can only add to the river's high flow and icy obstructions.
At least three river monitoring spots – two in and around Winona, one down by Genoa, Wis. – are already in the "near flood stage" range. Long-range hyrdrologic forecasts indicate trouble brewing near Wabasha.
Fasching said there could be more high water in the weeks and months ahead. He added that the Corps is working closely with the NWS and the U.S. Geological Survey to share information relevant to potential flood risk and will continue to monitor high water conditions on the Upper Mississippi River.
In the meantime, keep an eagle eye – not the literal kind – on the river.