Apr 6, 2023 - News

St. Paul braces for flood, just 4 months after drought

Illustration of measuring tape poking through a horizon of water.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Three months ago, most of the Twin Cities was in a severe drought. Now St. Paul officials are bracing for a possible Mississippi River flood.

Threat level: Current National Weather Service estimates say there's a good chance for the river to reach minor flood level in St. Paul by mid-April. It could get even higher as a crest date is not yet projected.

What to watch: Chances of a minor flood — or worse — will depend on a few factors, said Craig Schmidt, senior service hydrologist for the National Weather Service.

  • The bad news: With mounds of snow still standing after the third-snowiest winter on record, warm temperatures in the forecast could cause a rapid melt and send water gushing into the river and its tributaries.
  • The good news: With the ground nearly thawed, the soil should absorb some of that water. Plus, the seven-day forecast looks dry, Schmidt said.
  • The wild card: If rain returns later this month, it could add to an already rising river.

Why it matters: A significant Mississippi River flood could disrupt shipping and tour boats, submerge parks and damage property.

By the numbers: The river gauge in St. Paul is currently at 5.5 feet. If it gets to 14 feet, it's a minor flood. Major flood level is 15 feet.

  • The last major flood in St. Paul occurred in the spring of 2019, when the river crested at 20 feet and cost the city $750,000 for mitigation.

The bottom line: Heavy precipitation events and extremely dry periods are getting more common in the upper Midwest, Schmidt said.

  • "We're going to see more and more of these wild swings, between drought and wet, with climate change," he said.
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