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Upper Midwest flooding could last until late May

Parts of the Upper Midwest have been flooded for at least a week — and there may be no relief in sight until late May.

It started with heavy rain the weekend of April 23-24 — up to 4 inches in some spots — and rapid snow melt. Then there was an additional 1 to 2 inches of rain and a bit more snow melt the following weekend.

Areas along the Red River of the North and many of its tributaries overflowed their banks, but it didn’t happen right away.

“It takes a little bit of time to get into the river system, so there’s a delay of several days a lot of times. Then once it’s there, it has to migrate to other rivers,” Bill Barrett, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Grand Forks, North Dakota, told FreightWaves. “We have over 30 points [on those rivers] that we forecast for.”

The Grand Forks office covers eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota, where the flooding has hit. Barrett said it takes a long period of time for floodwaters to migrate northward out of the region, especially along the Red River, which stretches into Winnipeg, Canada.

“That’s why, certainly, we’re still dealing with this now, even though we have about five dry days, if you count Monday through Friday of this week,” Barrett explained.

Barrett described the flooding on the Minnesota side as “moderate.” However, most of the rain has fallen on the North Dakota side of the Red River, where many places have been at major flood stages since last week.

This has been a big issue in what Barrett called “breakout areas” where flooding has become more widespread rather than localized.

“We have areas north of Grand Forks and Oslo and some other places where it [the water] gets to a certain height and it can’t go any higher,” Barrett said. “So it just spreads out and you get a lake type of thing where you have a city surrounded by water.”

The water has been overtopping some dams and levees, but Barrett said they’re holding structurally. National Guard helicopter pilots have been lowering sandbags into some areas to help hold back the flooding.

Barrett added that it’s been about 10 years since flooding was this bad in the region, particularly in spots close to the Canadian border.

A few Interstate 29 ramps are closed in North Dakota, including the southbound entrance to the Alexander Henry rest area in Drayton, according to state transportation officials. North Dakota Route 18 is closed at the port of entry into Canada. Sections of other state and U.S. highways are closed in North Dakota and Minnesota.

Unfortunately, rain showers are in the forecast for this weekend, with more showers possible late next week.

“If it’s thundery, there will be some heavier amounts, but not widespread. If not, we’ll get more widespread amounts, which wouldn’t be good,” Barrett explained. “So I think right now, we probably have to say we won’t get any major relief for another two or three weeks.”

Major lanes of concern

  • Interstate 29 from Fargo, North Dakota, to the U.S.-Canada border.
  • Interstate 94 from Fargo to Detroit Lakes, Minnesota.
  • U.S. Route 2 from Devils Lake, North Dakota, to Bemidji, Minnesota.
  • U.S. Highway 59 in Minnesota from Erskine to Thief River Falls.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.

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