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Flood outlook for Minnesota River Valley: You can bet on it

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WILLMAR -- The stage is set for spring flooding in the Upper Minnesota River Valley and its tributaries.

The National Weather Service in Chanhassen is urging residents in the upper Minnesota River Valley to consider purchasing flood insurance so that it is in effect by the spring melt, and to pay attention to flood outlook advisories as they are posted in the weeks ahead.

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The next will be issued Jan. 27.

The amount of water contained in the snowpack at this point makes some level of flooding very likely this spring, according to Diane Cooper, hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Chanhassen. Current measurements show isolated areas with six to eight inches of water content in the upper Minnesota River Valley, and broader areas with four to five inches.

How much moisture arrives in the weeks ahead, and how quickly the snow melts, will ultimately determine the extent of flooding.

Now is the time to prepare by investigating flood insurance. To be safe, she recommends having a flood insurance policy in effect by March 1.

Many people do not know that there is a 30-day waiting period from enrollment to when a policy is activated, said Cooper.

Also, she warns that many people do not realize that their standard home owner's insurance policy does not cover flooding.

Not all insurance agents will offer flood insurance, and some agents told Cooper last year they do not like to take on the added hassle of handling it. She urges people interested in flood insurance to contact other agents if their agent does not handle it.

She also urges people to consider flood insurance even though they may live some distance from streams or lakes. Last year's snow melt led to many instances of overland flooding. Cooper heard from a number of property owners who were shocked to find their properties flooded.

The Weather Service will be issuing advisories on the flood potential in the weeks ahead, but those advisories are focused on the Minnesota River. She urges residents along all of the river tributaries -- including the Chippewa, Lac qui Parle, Pomme de Terre and Hawk Creek -- to keep an eye on the advisories and to watch for possible ice jams.

A series of moisture-laden storms in late autumn and early winter, a major rain event, and continued snowfall events and below-normal temperatures have allowed the snowpack water content to build. The snow cover also has kept the ground frost shallow.

Anecdotal reports that many tile lines are running is not necessarily good news, she said. It means that a portion of the water will be moving to waterways via the ground, where its transport speed and its quantity are much more difficult to calculate. It will add greatly to the complexity of flood forecasting this spring.

It could also prove dangerously deceptive once the snow melts, said Cooper. The water will still be on the landscape -- albeit moving in the ground -- and flooding is sure to follow, she warned.

For information on flood insurance, see: http://www.floodsmart.gov/floodsmart/

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Tom Cherveny
Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.
(320) 214-4335
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