Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Whew! Risk of major deluge way down

Chilly weather, lack of precipitation help

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Winnipeggers may have cursed the frigid April weather, but the experts tasked with predicting and battling a looming major flood might have been forgiven if they had performed the occasional high-five.

On Friday, a Red River flood once billed as rivalling the second-worst in a half century was downgraded to also-ran status. And the insufferably cold temperatures of the past few weeks, combined with a lack of precipitation, are the major reasons.

"Quite frankly, I don't think you could have got better weather over the last couple of weeks for flood purposes," said Steve Ashton, Manitoba's Emergency Measures Organization minister.

Temperatures that rose no higher than 4 C for weeks and retreated below freezing at night created a slow snowmelt and a gradual thawing of Red River Valley soil on both sides of the border that began to soak in water. Evaporation was also significant as the snow and water hardly budged.

The result is this spring's Red River flood is now expected to be more on par with the one in 2006 -- and well below the floods of 2011 and 2009.

In 2006, Highway 75 at Morris was closed for 18 days, while in 2009 it was closed for 36 days, and in 2011 for 28 days.

The improved Red River flood forecast comes after officials with the U.S. National Weather Service substantially lowered their own outlook south of the border earlier this week. Most of the Red River basin is situated on the U.S. side of the border.

In Manitoba, there is something else working in our favour this year -- timing.

In some years, Red River tributaries on the Canadian side of the border crest at the same time as the highest flow from the main stem of the Red rushes in from the U.S.

It looks like that won't happen this year.

"We could very well see our Manitoba tributaries run out before the American water gets here," said Steve Topping, the province's executive director of hydrologic forecasting and water management.

Still, with temperatures climbing this weekend, there will now be rapid snow melt throughout southern Manitoba -- and potentially some problems. Small streams and drains could quickly fill with water, causing ice jams and flooding some roads. Rapid snowmelt will also limit the ability of the ground to absorb runoff.

Major rivers such as the Red, Qu'Appelle and upper Assiniboine have areas of open water, but in some places the ice is stubbornly stuck in place. The province said its fleet of Amphibex ice-breaking machines is on standby to be deployed to serious river ice jams.

Localized flooding is still expected to occur in small tributaries such as the LaSalle, Roseau, Rat and Morris rivers. But water levels north of Winnipeg are expected to be well below 2011 levels.

Projections for the Souris, Qu'Appelle, Assiniboine, Saskatchewan and Fisher rivers remain unchanged from the April 10 flood outlook, officials said.

Lake-level projections also remain unchanged.

Meanwhile, the province announced Friday that the Manitoba Flood Forecasting Centre will now post daily flood forecasts and flood sheets on the provincial website. Flood liaison offices in Winnipeg, Brandon, Arborg and Morris will post them today.

Up-to-date flood information can be found at www.manitoba.ca/flooding, on mobile devices at www.manitoba.ca, on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MBGov or at 1-866-626-4862.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 27, 2013 A13

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Updated on Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 10:24 AM CDT: Update

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