The province’s March 31 outlook for “near-normal” flooding for most of Manitoba had a wrench thrown into it by a snowstorm in the northern U.S. and southern Manitoba last week.
“After the last few springs I’m not sure what normal is; it seems like normal is actually when we have major flooding,” Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton said at a news conference March 31. “But if you consider the fact we may not even have to operate the floodway, that indicated to my mind… the degree to which things are certainly looking a lot better than they have.”
However, the province issued an update last Friday. “The flood risk on the Red River south of Winnipeg is approaching the predicted unfavourable weather scenario as indicated in the province’s March 31 flood outlook,” it said.
“Unfavourable weather conditions could result in minor to moderate flooding. As indicated in the March outlook, river levels from Emerson to Winnipeg could be slightly higher than levels observed in 2008 and 2012. Minor flooding is expected to occur on small tributaries such as the La Salle, Rat and Morris rivers, and Buffalo Creek.”
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At the March 31 news conference, officials said the Portage Diversion is expected to be called into operation only under unfavourable weather conditions or if ice jams pose a threat between that community and Headingley.
“We do have ice thickness 20 per cent more than normal… so not only thicker, but also very strong,” said Fisaha Unduche, Manitoba’s chief flood forecaster, adding that ice jams can be difficult to predict.
Ice-cutting and ice-breaking machines have been working for several weeks to lower the risk of ice jams, breaking up 28 km of ice on the Red River north of Winnipeg, said Steve Topping, executive director of hydrologic forecasting and water management. Ice has also been broken on the Icelandic River, Brokenhead River, Whitemud River, Fisher River, as well as on Lake Manitoba at the outlet for the Portage Diversion channel.
But the continued cold weather has meant some ice previously broken up by the province’s amphibex fleet has begun to refreeze.
“These extremely cold temperatures we’ve had this winter, which is almost a record, it justifies putting the machines back in to start working upstream again,” said Topping.
The comparatively favourable outlook doesn’t mean people can relax altogether though, said Ashton. Frozen culverts and a deep, penetrating ground frost mean some people will be affected by flooding this spring.
“We are looking at some localized potential in terms of flooding,” said Ashton, adding that in addition to The Pas, areas around Dauphin Lake are also at risk for some flooding.
“We don’t take anything for granted,” he said.