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Recent rains and warmer-than-normal temperatures have led the National Weather Service to revise its flood projections to caution that waters could reach flood stage on the Minnesota River on Wednesday in Montevideo, and March 21 in Granite Falls. Ice-filled waterways are opening, as in this photo of Hawk Creek as it meets state Highway 23 south of Willmar. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

Waters coming faster, but not necessarily higher

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West Central Tribune
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Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

GRANITE FALLS -- Predicting a flood is a lot like cheering for a certain Minnesota sport team: You never really know what's going to happen, but you hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

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It's exactly the situation that Granite Falls Mayor Dave Smiglewski described to an estimated 125 people who attended a community meeting on Thursday evening. They came to hear about the city's preparations for a possible spring flood.

The mayor calmed some nerves by pointing out that current projections do not predict floodwaters approaching the levels experienced in 2001 or 1997.

New projections released by the National Weather Service on Friday show the waters of the Minnesota River rising sooner than was expected, according to Dave Berryman, engineer for the cities of Granite Falls and Montevideo. The Weather Service in Chanhassen is forecasting a speed-up in the rate at which snowmelt and the rain waters reach the Minnesota River, but it is not raising the elevations expected, he said.

The new projections show the river's waters reaching minor flood stage sometime on Wednesday in Montevideo and on March 21 in Granite Falls.

In both communities, a minor flood stage level would not cause any damage.

The Weather Service is forecasting an 80 percent probability of reaching moderate to major flood stage in Montevideo during the first week of April. City Manager Steve Jones said the current projections show waters possibly cresting around the 18.5 foot level.

That is "at the cusp'' of where the city would shut off sewer services to low areas of the community, such as the Smith Addition. The river crested at 23.9 feet in 1997.

Montevideo has its flood plan at the ready, and will be doing some work to raise portions of the levee. Dry conditions are needed before some of that work can get under way, Jones said.

Berryman said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also has emergency operation plans ready for both communities. The Corps is not going to activate emergency operations unless future flood forecasts show higher water elevations, he said.

In both communities, the officials noted that the potential damage from flooding has been greatly mitigated since 1997.

"We simply don't have the kind of town we had before,'' said Smiglewski.

He noted that there is a lot of water on the landscape and that the stage is set for flooding, making the next couple of weeks critical. If the weather brings higher-than-normal precipitation and temperatures, the projected river crests would rise.

If that happens, the city is prepared to do all it can to help its residents as well as those nearby, said the mayor in response to a question from an out-of-town resident.

"At that point it's all hands on deck and you do what you can,'' he said.

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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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