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Big river expected to mind its own business

If you want to know about the worst floods in the region from 1847 to 2001, see www.crh.noaa.gov/arx/historicalfloods.php.

By John Weiss

weiss@postbulletin.com

This year’s Mississippi River high water won’t be a repeat of 1965, 2001 or 1969.

In fact, it probably won’t even be flooding, so it’s not a threat like it was in those three years, when the worst floods on record took place.

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The closest the Mississippi will come this year to reaching flood stage — where the river begins to get serious about topping its banks — will be in Wabasha, where it’s expected to peak a half foot below flood stage this week. But even at flood stage, it’s far from a serious threat.

The river is only spreading into its floodplain, getting into the trees and some lowlands, but that’s normal.

By contrast, the 2001 flood, which is second-highest on record, was 6.22 feet above flood stage in Wabasha. In that year, it caused some major problems in Lake City and Wabasha. But Red Wing is generally well above the river’s floodplain, and Winona is protected by a dike.

This year’s high water will begin to peak in this region later this week and slowly move downriver, with the crest reaching the Winona and La Crosse areas early next week.

After that, it will drop and, unless there’s another burst of water from up north, will return to normal levels. The service’s forecast is actually for no rain for at least several days.

The non-flood happened despite about 2 feet of snow on the ground in this region less than a month ago because the region got lucky, said Brad Adams, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in La Crosse, Wis. "It was a gradual melt, and we didn’t have a lot of rain on top of it," he said.

Yes, much did melt in the unusual heat three weeks ago, but there was no rain. Even with temperatures well above normal, it took several days for the snow to melt, so it only swamped farm fields and ditches. Some smaller creeks were sent out of their banks. With heavy rain, however, snow melts quicker and combines with the rains in runoff. "That is typically the key, to stay away from that," Adams said.

In fact, heavy rain on top of heavy snow in 1965 helped create the worst flooding on record in this region. That year, Wabasha became an island.

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