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'Dry snow' means minimal flooding in Manitoba this spring: flood forecast

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One of three Amphibex ice-breaking machines, out on the Red River north of Selkirk by Netley Creek last week, works on breaking up the ice as part of the province's 2014 ice jam mitigation program.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

One of three Amphibex ice-breaking machines, out on the Red River north of Selkirk by Netley Creek last week, works on breaking up the ice as part of the province's 2014 ice jam mitigation program.

WINNIPEG - The icy grip of winter may be wearing down even the most hearty cold-weather enthusiasts, but in flood-prone Manitoba, it could help keep the province relatively dry come spring.

Flood officials say frigid temperatures have helped sap most of the moisture out of the above-average snowfall that has blanketed the province.

"Everybody in Manitoba knows the expression, 'It's a dry cold.' The reality is in many areas of the province we've had lots of snow, but it's a dry snow," Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton said at the province's first flood forecast Friday.

"Appearances can be very deceiving ... A couple feet of snow can come down to an inch or two, a few centimetres, of actual water content."

It's early days yet but Manitoba's flood experts say the province should only see minimal flooding if Mother Nature continues to co-operate. Conditions now are good, Ashton said. There is little moisture in the soil, which will allowing the ground to absorb more spring runoff when temperatures do finally start to rise. If there is a slow melt, officials say, there is little risk of a disruptive flood.

But all early predictions could be thrown into question if there is significant precipitation between now and the spring thaw. Early in 1997, the forecast called for minimal flooding, Ashton noted.

Then came a Colorado low-weather system that dumped huge amounts of precipitation and "record moisture content in the soil," he recalled. The "flood of the century" occurred soon after.

"All the predictions we are putting (out) now is assuming favourable weather conditions," said Fisaha Unduche, Manitoba's new chief flood forecaster. "When the weather conditions, the rate of melting, the temperature and everything changes, then our prediction will change."

Weather predictions suggest the deep-freeze may last well into March, but flood-fighting preparations are already underway, Ashton said.

Steve Topping, executive director of hydrologic forecasting and water management, said ice-cutting machines have broken up six kilometres through the middle of the Red River to prevent possible ice jams. They have about 25 kilometres to go. Ice on the river is much thicker than normal and is going down as much as 83 centimetres in some parts, Topping said.

"There is lots more ice to break."

There are parts of Manitoba — particularly in the west — that may experience localized flooding, Ashton said. The province will continue to monitor the situation closely and is ready to spring into action when needed, he said.

"One thing we've learned in Manitoba is you never take anything for granted. We have been mobilizing over the last number of weeks but we'll be gearing that up. We're already into significant flood preparation."

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