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Fast snowmelt causes flooding around county

Swift County Monitor - Staff Photo - Create Article
Photo by Rob Anfinson Last Thursday, the Chippewa River had overflowed its banks and spread across the Benson Golf Course toward the Hawleywood subdivision in northwest Benson. At the upper left the floodwaters can be seen stopped by the golf club service road just short of Hawleywood.

By Reed Anfinson


At an emergency meeting late Thursday afternoon, the Swift County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution declaring a state of emergency due to flooding. McGeary told the commissioners the resolution makes the county, its cities and townships, eligible for disaster assistance.

Commission Chair Pete Peterson, District 3-south Benson and Torning Township, Commissioner Ed Pederson, District 2-north Benson and Benson Township, and Commissioner Gary Hendrickx, District 1-Appleton, voted to pass the resolution. Commissioners Eric Rudningen, District 5-Kerkhoven, and Larry Mahoney, District 4-Fairfield Township, couldn’t make the emergency meeting.

McGeary told commissioners that he had made sand and sandbags available to the public at the Benson Civic Center.

He also said he expected that townships would be working over the coming months to fill in gravel roads that were seeing extensive erosion due to flooding.

From March 6 to April 9, more than a month, not a single high temperature reached its daily average. Highs were 11 degrees below average at 30.7 degrees and lows 12.7 degrees below average at 10.2 degrees for the period.

But April 10’s high of 54 signaled the fast warm up public officials had feared. It was the first 50-degree day since Nov. 25 when it reached 54. Last Tuesday blew right through the 60s to a high of 70 degrees. Wednesday, April 12, also saw another high of 70. Then came Thursday with the high reaching 81 degrees.

April 10 the landscape was mostly covered in a deep layer of snow but three days of unusually warm temperatures, with evening lows staying above freeze, saw much of the snow disappear.

Locked up in the snow cover was a record amount of precipitation. For the period from Nov. 1 through March 31, the area set a record for total precipitation with 13.33 inches. The old record was 9.36 inches set in the November to March period of 2008-2009. The average precipitation for the five-month period is 5.16 inches.

As water from the rapidly melting snow flowed across farmland to the north of its station along U.S. Highway 12 Thursday, two skid loaders rushed to help build a dike around Ascheman Oil in Danvers.

At the same time, was watching the Chippewa River’s rapid rise along with City of Benson Public Works Director Dan Gens, Minnesota Department of Transportation, and Burlington Northern Santa Fe employees.

Two large trackhoes, one operated by Troy Kennedy of Kennedy Excavating, of Benson, and one by Todd Commerford of Commerford Gravel, Inc. of Danvers, worked to clear ice floes jammed up against the pylons supporting the BNSF Railroad bridge next to Minnesota Highway 9.

When the ice floes get lodged by the multiple pylons on the bridge, they can quickly create a dam that causes water to quickly rise by a couple feet to the north. Flood waters can then spread across the Benson Golf Course toward the Hawleywood subdivision in northwest Benson.

As flood waters rose throughout the county, Swift County Highway crews were posting road closed signs where water was flowing across the gravel. In some places, it was several feet deep and flowing quickly.

Last Wednesday, the Chippewa River level rose to 15.45 feet at the National Weather Service monitoring site at the U.S. Highway 12 bridge. After falling Wednesday night as temperatures cooled after sunset, Thursday saw the river rising again.

It reached a springtime peak of 15.75 feet Thursday afternoon as water flowed over the golf course nearing the gravel service road that separates it from homes in Hawleywood. With the trackhoes able to break up the icefloes at the BNSF bridge, water levels were kept from rising even higher.

In the spring flood of 2019, icefloes caught at the BNSF bridge caused a record high water level of 17.5 feet to be measured. That year, volunteers and city crews worked to raise the height of the golf course service road with water rising to within less than a foot of going over the road.

Both Friday, Saturday, and Sunday the Chippewa River’s peak height fell just short of 15 feet. By Monday morning, the Chippewa’s water levels had fallen by an average of nearly 2 feet from the peak.

Benson received another 3.5 inches of snow Sunday pushing this snow season’s record-breaking total even higher. The Benson area has now seen 90.8 inches of snow, shattering the old record of 78.5 inches in the 2018-2019 season. It also received another 35 hundredths of an inch of precipitation.


Ice outs are going to be late

It’s unlikely that any lakes in western Minnesota will be opening soon. They are already past their average opening dates.

They should be open, however, for the fishing opener May 13. There are concerns that some of the state’s northern lakes will still be covered in ice when the fishing season starts unless it warms up soon and stays warm.

“The definition of lake ice out can vary from lake to lake,” Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) says.  For the citizen observers reporting data, ice out occurs when the lake is completely free of ice or it may be when it is possible to navigate from point A to point B across a lake.

Observers use consistent criteria from year to year when reporting lake ice out dates. Some say ice is out when 90% of it is gone, the DNR says.

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