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Spring flood forecast encouraging

Southern Manitoba likely to experience few if any problems, latest outlook says

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Due to cold weather, Amphibex icebreakers are rebreaking Red River ice they broke up about a month ago. The latest outlook indicates southern Manitoba likely won't experience major flooding problems.

MELISSA TAIT / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

Due to cold weather, Amphibex icebreakers are rebreaking Red River ice they broke up about a month ago. The latest outlook indicates southern Manitoba likely won't experience major flooding problems. Photo Store

Southern Manitoba should expect little if any spring flooding this year, the province's latest outlook predicts.

Highway 75 should stay high and dry and the Red River Floodway will likely not be used.

The same goes for the Portage Diversion, which empties into Lake Manitoba.

Those are the high points of the province's latest spring flood outlook, released Monday.

"Things are looking a lot better than they have in other springs," Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton said. "I think a lot of Manitobans may say the brutal winter was depressing at times, but on the other hand, if we get a decent spring out of it and we don't have major challenges in terms of flooding, maybe things aren't all that bad after all."

Both diversions will only be used on the 10 per cent chance the province sees unfavourable weather conditions, such as more snow or rain and rapid snowmelt.

'I think a lot of Manitobans may say the brutal winter was depressing at times, but on the other hand, if we get a decent spring out of it and we don't have major challenges in terms of flooding, maybe things aren't all that bad after all'

-- Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton

Environment Canada's March-to-May weather outlook calls for temperatures near normal in most of the province except for the southeast sector, which is expected to experience below-normal temperatures. Precipitation is expected to be near normal across the province.

Even with a Colorado low weather system bearing down on Manitoba on Monday, forecast to dump up to 50 centimetres of snow in some parts, officials say the risk of serious flooding is low so far.

More snow will do little to change that forecast, as it's already built into the spring flood outlook, said Fisaha Unduche, Manitoba's new chief flood forecaster.

Additional snow that falls in southeast Manitoba and northern North Dakota will be monitored to see if the flood forecast should be adjusted, Unduche said.

The flood forecast along the Red River between eastern North Dakota and northwest Minnesota also calls for a normal flood year.

Helping in the forecast of a low flood threat is that in most areas of the province, soil moisture and winter precipitation are near normal, meaning the ground can absorb most snowmelt and runoff, Unduche said.

"We don't really expect any major flooding," he said.

The exception is in Winnipeg, which could experience localized flooding because the snowpack is above normal.

The province says the runoff potential within the city could be above normal if a faster rate of melt occurs on still-frozen ground, but the city's sewer drains should be able to accommodate it. Localized flooding is also a risk in rural areas if culverts and ditches are frozen.

Unduche said the extreme cold this winter has sapped much of the moisture out of the snow still blanketing the province. That means some 60 cm of snow can melt down into just a few centimetres of water.

"The cold temperature reduces the density of the snow, so even if we see a huge amount of snow in the majority of areas... the water content of the snow is reduced," he said.

Though the frigid winter helps keep the province relatively dry when the snow melts, it is wreaking havoc with the soil, and this might produce localized overland flooding. The extreme cold this winter means the frost has penetrated deeper into the ground.

Steve Topping, executive director of hydrologic forecasting and water management, said that means it will take some time before the ground thaws and can absorb water.

The main hot spot for flooding is The Pas, where above-normal soil moisture and above-normal winter precipitation have resulted in the potential for greater-than-normal runoff and localized flooding. Existing flood protection is expected to be adequate for the projected levels.

Near Russell, the Shellmouth Dam and reservoir have been operating to allow for storage capacity for the upcoming spring runoff and normal summer levels.

Because of prolonged cold weather, the province's fleet of Amphibex icebreakers has returned to the Red River north of Selkirk to rebreak ice near Netley Creek by Petersfield, as it's frozen solid since being broken up about a month ago.

The river ice is broken up each year to reduce the flooding threat caused by ice jams.

The Amphibexes have also broken up river ice on the Brokenhead River through the Brokenhead Ojibwa Nation, the Icelandic River at Riverton and the Fisher River through the community of Fisher River.

Lake Manitoba ice was broken at the outlet of the Portage Diversion channel. Also, ice was cut on the Whitemud River at the outlet of the river into Lake Manitoba.

The thickness of ice on the province's lakes and rivers is about 10 to 20 per cent greater than in previous years.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 1, 2014 A4

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