Longtime residents warn that spring 2019 has an ominous feel similar to that of 1965, when the region suffered its greatest flood in recorded history after a series of storms dumped massive precipitation on much of Minnesota as well as western Wisconsin. The blizzards came March 1-2, 10-12, 17-18 and 27-29. The hardest hit areas were the Minnesota, St. Croix and Chippewa river basins all feeding into the Mississippi.
This year, the storms came in February. Then rain, rain, rain came in March, and we all know that we potentially face six more weeks of winter regardless of the fact that the spring equinox is here. We also know that the right (i.e. wrong) combination of freeze-thaw-precipitation could mean dangerously high waters. There's genuine reason for concern.
There's also genuine reason to hope - provided we stay alert, positive and, wherever possible, proactive. As we wrote in January while outlining our editorial agenda for 2019 (which includes addressing the environment and growing extreme weather): There are many things, big and small, people can do individually and together that can make a difference. And we need to plan and prepare - cooperatively - so we're ready.
Some flood efforts are underway. Federal and state officials have joined local leaders in discussions. Meetings continued this week. Many citizens may be fighting wet basements and soggy ceilings at their individual homes but they also speak about tackling problems quickly in case they must answer a bigger call a few days or few weeks from now.
Remember, out of the devastating 1965 flood came much good. Three examples immediately come to mind:
• Communities implemented zoning regulations and water mitigation measures for those low-lying areas particularly at risk;
• Public health officials know more than ever about the illnesses and contaminants carried by flood waters, and can help people address/avoid them.
• The annual Flood Run was born and today raises tens of thousands of dollars twice a year for the Gillette Children's Hospital.
Time also offers the community lessons it can use to citizens' advantage. Today, for example, we understand emergency preparedness better. We have better weather and flood forecasting (as imperfect as these sciences remain) and we have better technology to help us stay connected.
One key thing hasn't changed: We have one another. People joined together, filling sandbags to save schools, churches and homes in 1965. If necessary, we'll do so again.
Spring 2019 has arrived and with it hope eternal.