This week’s heavy rain and snow will help push the Mississippi River above flood stage in many locations by the weekend, but National Weather Service forecasters are backing off predictions of a record — or even major — flood.
Crests are now expected to occur in the first or second week of April, and the latest indications are they will be in the minor to moderate range — less than the record crest of 1965 or the second-highest of 2001, which the weather service had earlier said was a possibility.
The Mississippi is expected to flood Sunday in Winona and Tuesday in La Crosse. It could top out 2 to 3 feet above flood stage in Winona and 1 to 2 feet in La Crosse. That would mean some parks and lowlands near the river will be under water.
That was good news for Ron White, who was filling sandbags Thursday to protect his home in La Crescent’s Shore Acres neighborhood.
“That ain’t so bad,” White said on hearing the revised crest projection of 13 to 14 feet. “I’ve gone through eight (floods) that are over 12 feet. Thirteen and half and under is basically no flood for us.”
People who live in flood plains have to expect floods, said Gary Johnson, who helped his friend bag sand provided by the city of La Crescent. Johnson said his father’s North Side La Crosse home had seven feet of water in the basement during the 1965 flood. Johnson, a retired teacher, now lives in Holmen.
“I don’t mess with floods anymore,” he said.
White figures he will still need about 200 sandbags to keep water out of his basement. It’s a small price to pay, he said, for living on the riverfront.
“I get my basement cleaned out every five years,” he joked.
Forecasters credit an extended dry period in early March and a recent cold snap for the downward adjustment in crest predictions. Earlier they had predicted a one in three chance this year’s flood could exceed that of 1965, when the river went nearly 6 feet over flood stage. In 2001, the river went nearly 4.5 feet over flood stage.
Despite heavy precipitation earlier this week, cold weather has kept much of that water frozen in place rather than rushing into already full waterways.
But that doesn’t mean the danger is past. With water expected to remain high throughout April, there’s still the threat of a major storm adding to the problem, as happened in both 1965 and 2001.
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” meteorologist John Wetenkamp said.
Flood warnings continue for much of the Coulee Region as tributaries spill their banks. Minor flooding was occurring Thursday in Galesville, though the Black River was expected to fall below flood stage today. Minor flooding was also reported on the Kickapoo River, where crests are expected today through the weekend.
The Weather Service warns against driving into flooded areas as it takes only a couple of feet of water to float most cars and some sport utility vehicles.