Manitoba flood forecasters continue to watch the Red River closely, suggesting that with favourable weather, flooding will not be any worse than it was last year.
In the province’s second spring-thaw outlook, Manitoba Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler said that concern was limited to the Red River basin, as the Assiniboine River is expected to remain mostly within its banks, threatening only a small area of agricultural land.
Risk associated with the Red River depends now entirely on weather in the coming days, Schuler added, but the floodway will be put into service, regardless.
"Under normal weather conditions, it would be more of a 2006 flood level. Under favourable weather conditions, it would be 2019. So far, we have no indication of a weather system developing that would cause us concern," he said Tuesday.
In 2006, Highway 75 was closed for 18 days. With unfavourable levels of precipitation, the province would expect 2011 flood levels, which caused the closure of the highway for 28 days.
"Manitobans have dealt with many emergencies in the past, and we will be prepared for any high-water event that may develop over the coming weeks," Schuler said.
South of the border, things continue to look more dire. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its flood outlook March 19 and warned the Red River basin in North Dakota is at high risk of a major flood event.
Corey Loveland, a service co-ordination hydrologist with the American National Weather Service, said this could be one of the most significant flood years on record in North Dakota. He is reasonably confident this year will fall in the top 10 flooding events for the region, possibly even top five.
"Spring precipitation is the wild card and is really hard to predict," he said. "Thus far it’s been really dry, we haven’t gotten additional snow, there haven’t been rainstorms that have melted the snowpack."
Loveland said even if melting conditions remain ideal, it won't make up for the wet fall that left soil saturated, followed by above-average snowfall.
"Out of our 125 years of records, last year was the wettest for the whole year, from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 in Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota," he said.
Manitoba's winter precipitation levels were far below average, by comparison.
Schuler said the province is working with the six communities believed to be most at risk, including the preparations for ring dikes in Emerson, Morris and St. Adolphe.
Sarah Lawrynuik reports on climate change for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press climate change reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.
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Updated on Tuesday, March 31, 2020 at 5:35 PM CDT: Adds photo
10:09 PM: clarifies info about closure of Highway 75 in 2006 and 2011