Archived Story

Officials: Be prepared for spring floods

Published 6:00pm Saturday, January 29, 2011

Soil in Freeborn County already will be wet from heavy rains in September

An extremely wet autumn followed by near-record snowfalls this winter are causing worry about flooding as spring approaches.

The National Weather Service issued a spring flood outlook last week, which stated the concerns for flooding span the entire state. The Red, Minnesota and Upper Mississippi rivers are the main areas at issue, along with the St. Croix River. However, any area close to a river, creek or stream is likely at risk.

For the Freeborn County area specifically, the concern is about overland flooding.

“Snow will start melting, and it will be like a heavy-rain event,” said Diane Cooper, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service forecast office in the Twin Cities. “Only so much water can drain so quickly, and the soil is already extremely wet from September.”

Areas of Freeborn County received more than 6 inches of rain Sept. 22 and 23. Several areas flooded due to overflow of drainage ditches. For the entire month of September, Albert Lea received 9.7 inches of rainfall, when it usually averages 3.5 in that month.

On Friday, snow accumulation on the ground measured 15 inches at the Albert Lea Wastewater Treatment Plant, which is an observation station for the National Weather Service.

According to Rick Ashling, who monitors snowfall and precipitation accumulations at the plant, about 43 1/2 inches of snow have been received at the plant since November. He said accumulation totals on the ground, across the southern part of the state, measures anywhere from 12 to 18 inches.

“While snow is something consider, more of the factor is the snow-water equivalent, or how much water is in the snow,” said Cooper.

She said there are a couple of ways to measure the water in the snow, including a high-tech method using airborne equipment that detects gamma radiation from the earth. She also said the much simpler way, which is just as accurate and used by local weather observers around the state, is by taking a core sample of snow with a rain gage, melting it down and measuring the amount of water there is.

She said observers in the southern Minnesota area are having are facing a problem. There’s a layer of ice down in the snow accumulation, which was received around the end of December. She said that ice should be considered a part of the measurement but causes difficulty when collecting water measurements.

Cooper said emergency preparation managers statewide are strongly encouraging people, especially those who live near creeks and streams, to look into flood insurance. Flood damage is not covered under the standard homeowner’s policy and there’s a 30-day waiting period before a flood policy goes into effect.

Even those who don’t live near a body of water could experience water seepage through the basement walls.

“It’s not going to take much more to cause basement seepage,” she said. “You don’t have to sit and wait for the flood to happen to you. There’s a lot you can do now.”

Cooper suggested making sure gutters and drains outdoors are cleared of leaves and debris. Indoors, she said it’s a good idea to take an inventory of things in your basement, along with photos, remove and raise furniture and appliances off the floor, and make sure sump pumps are working properly.

Albert Lea Public Works Director Steven Jahnke said the main concern in Albert Lea is not so much flooding into houses but more so with a quick spring melt, problems can be caused within the sanitary sewer system.

“The worst case if it’s raining and the ground gets saturated, it increases the chance for the sewer system to overload and back up into basements,” he said.

He said for now, they are watching things closely and if they can see that groundwater saturation may occur, they can plan in advance how to address the situation. He said setting up pumps to try and prevent backups would be an option.

Jahnke also wanted to remind people to turn their bypass valves for their sewer systems back outside by March 1.

Don Flatness, Freeborn Soil and Water Conservation District manager, said he has not received many concerns about flooding to date.

Preparing for a flood

Minnesota Recovers, a local, state and federal resource for people, businesses and communities affected by natural disaster, suggests the following tips for homeowners preparing for a flood:
Prepare a personal flood file:
• Have copies of all insurance policies with your agent’s contact information
• Complete a room-by-room inventory of your possessions, including receipts, photos and videos
• Copy all other critical documents, including financial records
• Store the flood file in a secure place, such as a safe deposit box or waterproof container

Prepare your home:
• Make sure your sump pump is working
• Clear debris from gutters and downspouts
• Anchor any fuel tanks
• Take necessary steps to prevent the release of any dangerous chemicals that might be stored on your property
• Shut off all utilities at the main switches and valves (water, gas, oil and electric)
• Remove wall and outlet plates and cover them with rubberized tape
• Do not touch electrical switches or any electrical components while wet or standing in wet water
• Raise your electrical components (switches, sockets, circuit breakers and wiring) at least 12 inches above your home’s projected flood elevation
• Place your furnace, water heater, washer and dryer on cement blocks at least 12 inches above your home’s projected flood elevation
• Remove all items from your basement; move furniture, valuables and important documents to a safe place
• If possible, move perishable food out of your refrigerator and freezer in a basement
• Move boxes, books, clothing, photos and rugs