Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Flood aware: Keeping a watchful eye on rising rivers in Minnesota March 20, 2019

I shot this scene of the rising Cannon River near the iconic Faribault Woolen Mill shortly before sunset Monday.

 

WITH TWO RIVERS RUNNING through Faribault, a flooding concern always exists. We’ve had property-damaging floods here in the past. And now, with spring snow melt well underway, we’re all on alert.

 

The Faribault Woolen Mill dam is barely visible in this photo.

 

A close-up of the dam.

 

Likewise, a second dam by the entrance to North Alexander Park and the Rice County Fairgounds is also almost invisible.

 

Although the Cannon and Straight Rivers are high and have spilled from their banks in some areas, they aren’t threatening. Yet. Who knows what this week’s expected 50 to near 60-degree temps will bring?

 

The overflowing Cannon River edges Minnesota State Highway 3 at its intersection with Rice County Road 29 just north of Faribault.

 

Trees felled by a September 2018 tornado clog the rising Cannon River as seen in this view from the Rice County Road 29 bridge.

 

The Cannon River spills out of its banks at the intersection of Minnesota State Highway 3 and Rice County Road 29 on Monday evening. This is the main connecting highway between Faribault and Northfield.

 

I feel for the folks in Nebraska with the devastating floods there. I feel for the folks in the Fargo-Moorhead area now preparing for likely flooding. I feel for the folks in Jordan, Minnesota, some of whom already had to evacuate homes. I feel for the river communities of Northfield, Hastings, Stillwater, Red Wing, New Ulm… The list is lengthy of Minnesota cities that could face serious flooding. Some, including Northfield along the Cannon River and just to the north of Faribault, are in a flood warning issued by the National Weather Service. My home county of Redwood, through which the Redwood River runs, is also included in this warning for specific rivers (the Redwood, Cottonwood, Minnesota and Cannon rivers) in Minnesota.

 

While the snow pack has diminished significantly, snow remains to melt. I shot this photo west of Dundas around sunset Monday along Rice County Road 1.

 

For now, in Faribault, the issue is primarily flooded basements. I’ve talked to friends who’ve never had water in their basements. Until this year. We’re not talking just water seepage either. We’re also talking backed up septic systems. We’ve had minor issues in our house, too.

 

Water floods a low lying area along Interstate 35 somewhere between the south metro and Faribault. Photo taken late Saturday afternoon.

 

But we’ll get through this. We always do.

TELL ME: Have you experienced any flooding or water-related issues in your community or home? Or are you prepping for such a possibility?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Memories of a long ago challenging Minnesota winter & more March 15, 2019

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I took this photo several years ago on the Minnesota Highway 19 curve just north of Vesta, my southwestern Minnesota hometown. White-out conditions can happen quickly in that wind-swept part of the state. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

SOME 50 YEARS AGO, getting to school each day during the winter months proved difficult. It was a particularly snowy winter with strong prairie winds drifting snow across and blocking many roadways. I lived a mile from Vesta on a crop and dairy farm. But I lived some 20 miles from the junior high school I attended in Redwood Falls.

In that late 1960s winter to remember, buses stopped driving into the country to pick up students. That pretty much covered everyone from the Vesta area. Nearly all of us lived on farms.

 

A bus I photographed near Morgan, Minnesota, in May 2018. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

If we could get into the cafe in Vesta, we could board a bus that would then travel Minnesota State Highway 19 to our school in Redwood. But getting there took effort and determination. My oldest brother and I climbed onto the John Deere tractor driven by Dad for the ride into town. And just to clarify, that tractor did not have a cab, only a canvas shield of sorts around the seat. And even though girls were banned from wearing pants at school, I slipped a pair of pants on underneath my dress.

I don’t recall additional details of those tractor rides. But I do recall the bus ride to Redwood along a state highway with snowbanks towering well above the bus. Single lanes cut into rock-hard drifts.

And then I recall the reactions of some teachers when all of us Vesta kids arrived two hours late. They were angry and told us so. Really? You try hopping on a tractor in the cold of winter to get to town to catch a bus and then ride another half hour to school. Be thankful we made it to class.

Kids now days certainly don’t face those challenges. And, if they did, they’d be tucked inside a heated tractor cab. More likely a pick-up truck. But Minnesota prairie kids still face canceled rural routes. “Buses on plowed roads only” is not uncommon during the winter in parts of Minnesota. And just yesterday, I read on the KLGR radio website out of Redwood Falls that buses in at least three schools—Lakeview, Echo Charter and, surprisingly, Redwood—would travel on paved roads only.

Muddy gravel roads and flooding can also become a problem as winter transitions toward spring. And right now Minnesota is experiencing plenty of flooding of roadways and streets.

 

The Faribault American Legion and Heritage Place businesses, a block from downtown, are surrounded by flood waters in September 2010. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

 

And more. In Faribault, the city issued this statement on its Facebook page:

SANDBAGS: The City of Faribault will be providing to city residents sand and bags if, and when, flooding occurs. If sandbags are needed now because of a localized flooding event (like backyard flooding into a door in a walkout basement, for example) contact the Faribault Fire Department at 507-334-8773.

 

A broad view of Wabasso’s Main Street. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

In the small town of Wabasso (where I attended high school) in my home county of Redwood, the city issued this statement on its Facebook page:

The city of Wabasso recommends turning your sump pump discharge outside. This means either into your yard, the street, or on top of the snow.
The water flowing through the sanitary sewer has been elevated since this afternoon.
When the sewer is overloaded, there is a risk that residents will have sewage back up into their homes.
Please turn your sump pumps to the surface as soon as you are able.

This winter of too much snow and now a too quick snow melt with too much rain is challenging all of us. But eventually conditions will improve. And we can look back and remember the difficult winter of 2019. Like I remember that late 1960s winter of riding the John Deere tractor to catch the school bus.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

First the massive snow, now flooding potential in Minnesota March 13, 2019

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A snow-socked neighborhood in Faribault, photographed on Sunday.

 

AS IF THIS WINTER of excessive snow hasn’t taxed us enough, now Minnesota is dealing with potential flooding. A flood warning is in effect until 8 a.m. Wednesday for my county of Rice, Goodhue County and several counties in Wisconsin. The National Weather Service has also issued a flood watch in other parts of Minnesota.

Expected temps in the 40s, even 50s, coupled with rainfall of several inches and a resulting fast snow melt, set us up for flooding. All of that water must go somewhere.

With the ground still frozen, that water won’t soak into the earth. Where will it go? In cities and small towns, the water should typically run into storm drains. But many are clogged by snow and ice, meaning the water will end up ponding on and flooding streets. And, yes, city crews have been working to open storm drains. But it’s a time-consuming and difficult task.

Many Minnesota riverside communities (like Stillwater and Hastings) have plans in place to sandbag. The Cannon and Straight Rivers run through Faribault. We’ve experienced flooding in the past. Will those rivers flood again? I don’t know.

 

Randy shovels snow from a portion of our house roof during a particularly past snowy winter. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Homeowners dealing with massive amounts of snow on their roofs and ice dams (and that includes us) face water leakage issues. Randy has been on our roof thrice this winter to remove snow, including Tuesday afternoon. He worked for hours in the rain to shovel snow, chip at ice dams and run hot water over snowy and icy areas on the roof. The ladder slipped once, with him on it. He rode it down to a lower roof level without falling. Yes, I cajoled/pleaded/begged him not to attempt another climb onto the steep, icy roof. Once he melted the icy section with hot water, he was back up a more stabilized ladder.

 

Ice dams on our house. This is a common problem, especially on older homes like ours. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2019.

Water is leaking under shingles and inside homes. Water is seeping into basements. That likely will get worse. I hope the water prevention system we installed in our basement several years ago continues to work.

This winter is truly challenging all of us. Mentally. Physically. And now in our pocketbooks. I know we’re not alone. Other areas of the country are experiencing similar catastrophic weather. If it wasn’t for the flooding and other water-related issues, I’d embrace the current warm temps.

We are in this together. We’ll get through this. We always do. We just need to get safely through these next several days.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Back in Redwood County after July flash floods July 9, 2018

Just six weeks ago, spring planting was underway in this same area of rural Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2018.

 

DURING MY LAST TRIP to southwestern Minnesota in mid May, farmers worked the land. Tilling. Planting crops. Rushing to get seeds into the soil after a late spring start.

Now, some six weeks later, acres and acres of that same cropland lie under water, corn and soybean fields flooded by torrential rains. Flash floods that turned farm land into lakes early last week.

On our route west of Redwood Falls then north to Belview then later east of Belview along county roads back to Redwood, Randy and I observed lots of standing water. Massive lakes where crops should now thrive. It was disheartening to see the efforts and hopes of so many farmers gone. Flash, just like that. Weather is always the gamble of farming. I would never have the mental fortitude to farm. I admire those who do.

As we drove, I noted the wash of debris along shoulders, evidence that floodwaters overtook the county road. We drove a narrow ribbon of asphalt, water edging both sides of the roadway. Orange cones and orange flags flagged danger. An orange snow fence blocked a gravel road.

I understood that, days after the flash flood, we had not seen the worst of this devastating storm. But it was enough for me to gauge the significant loss to the farmers of my native Redwood County.

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NOTE: My apologies for the lack of flood images. But I am under strict orders from my ortho surgeon not to use my left hand as I recover from surgery on my broken left wrist. “Use it,” he said, “and you will be back in the OR.” I’ll listen, thank you.

© copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When torrential rains cause major flooding in my home region of southwestern Minnesota July 4, 2018

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY, my friends. I hope this finds you celebrating your freedom in a fun way.

 

The Redwood River, flooded over its banks, along Redwood County Road 10 heading south out of Vesta earlier this spring. That’s my home farm in the distance. I expect the flooding is much worse now. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

In my home region of southwestern Minnesota, where I was supposed to be yesterday and today with extended family, residents are cleaning up after heavy rainfall flooded the region. Flash flooding resulted in water in basements (and higher), road wash-outs and closures, mudslides, swamped farm fields, overflowing rivers and more. That includes in my home county of Redwood. And the communities of Wabasso (where I graduated from high school) and Vesta (my hometown).

After a flurry of texts between me and my five siblings and lots of online searching yesterday, Randy and I decided not to risk the trip into the flooded region. Although I second-guessed our decision multiple times, it was the right one. This morning floodwaters flowed across a section of US highway 14 east of Lamberton, our route to and from my middle brother’s rural acreage just north of that small town. Likewise I expect the rising Cottonwood River has flooded a county road within a mile of our destination.

Some roads have collapsed in Redwood and Renville counties. I don’t trust the structural integrity of any road covered with water. The Redwood County Sheriff’s Department issued this statement on Facebook early yesterday morning:

We have had numerous (reports) of water covering the roadways. Please DO NOT drive on any roadway that has water running over it. MN DOT and Redwood County highway departments are doing the best they can do get these roads blocked off to warn motorists.

 

A combine similar to this was moved from a Tracy dealership onto Highway 14. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

One of the most creative road blocks happened in Tracy where crews parked a massive John Deere combine across Highway 14 to keep traffic off the flooded roadway.

 

This road-side sculpture welcomes travelers to Wabasso. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

In Wabasso, which got 11 inches of rain within 12 hours, a resident noted on social media that the white rabbit was safe from floodwaters. He was referencing an over-sized rabbit sculpture along State Highway 68. Wabasso means “white rabbit” and is the local school mascot.

It’s good to find humor in a difficult situation, in an area where residents endured another round of rain this Fourth of July morning.

To those who live in my native southwestern Minnesota (and that includes many family and friends), I am sorry you are experiencing this major flooding. Please be safe.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Spring flooding in my home county of Redwood April 30, 2018

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Entering my home county of Redwood along Minnesota State Highway 68 southeast of Morgan.

 

SEVERAL DAYS AGO, traveling back to my hometown of Vesta, I noted snow sculpted in some road ditches. This late in April, the scene was unexpected. But then a blizzard raged across southern Minnesota only weeks earlier. And that road ditch snow, hard-packed by prairie winds, had yet to melt in the then 60-degree temps.

 

Nearing Vesta (left in photo) along Minnesota State Highway 19, I saw more and more flooding of farm fields.

 

A view of the flooding from Highway 19 just northwest of Vesta.

 

And just across the highway, more flooding.

 

Beyond the snow, though, I noticed water setting in farm fields. The late significant snowfalls and plugged culverts and tiles likely contributed to the collection of snow melt water in many low-lying areas. It would be awhile, I surmised, before farmers would be working this land.

 

 

The deep blue of those temporary ponds appeals to the poet in me. I see lines of poetry in splashes of blue across an otherwise drab landscape stubbled by remnants of last year’s harvest.

 

The Redwood River, flooded over its banks, along Redwood County Road 10 heading south out of Vesta. That’s my home farm in the distance. There have been times when the river flooded across the roadway.

 

A temporary lake of floodwaters borders my hometown of Vesta.

 

Flooded farmland along the Redwood River on the edge of Vesta.

 

On the south edge of Vesta, within view of the Redwood River, a lake formed as the river overflowed its banks and flooded surrounding farm land. The town itself was in no danger with a hill—rare as they are on the prairie—bordering that end of town.

 

Water spreads easily across the almost tabletop flat landscape, here just north of Vesta.

 

There’s something about floodwaters that draws my appreciation, causes me to stand and just look at the river and recognize its power.

 

These grain bins sit a gravel road and short stretch of land away from the floodwaters of the Redwood River in Vesta.

 

I realize that soon (maybe even as I write) this flooding will be another memory as farmers ready for planting and, in several months, the harvest.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Documenting Faribault’s latest flood, the third since 2010 September 22, 2016

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Locals are drawn under the viaduct that links the west and east side of Faribault during yet another flood in our community caused by excessive rainfall. Here the Straight River runs

Locals are drawn under the viaduct Thursday evening during yet another flood in our community caused by excessive rainfall. Here the Straight River runs over its banks. A flood warning continues until 5 a.m. Friday.

 

THE SCENES ARE ALL TOO FAMILIAR.

 

The water has risen so high that the Cannon River dam is no longer visible next to the Faribault Woolen Mill.

 

The dam no longer visible.

 

 

A line of sandbags protect the mill operation and retail store along the banks of the Cannon River.

 

Sandbags stacked outside the Faribault Woolen Mill.

 

Police tape runs along the sidewalk on Second Avenue between the Faribault Woolen Mill and Faribault Foods.

Second Avenue between the Faribault Woolen Mill and Faribault Foods.

Police tape.

Several blocks of Second Avenue by the Cannon River are closed.

Several blocks of Second Avenue from Faribault Foods (left), past the Woolen Mill (right) to Caseys General Store were closed. The street runs past the Cannon River.

Roads barricaded.

Onlookers gather at the bridge entry to Teepee Tonka Park, now flooded by the Straight River.

The bridge entry to Teepee Tonka Park, now flooded by the Straight River.

And locals gathered by the dozens to document the scenes, to see how the mighty Cannon and Straight Rivers have once again overflowed their banks.

 

This Twin Cities news crew, parked near the Rice County Fairgrounds entry Thursday evening, was filming at the Faribault Woolen Mill.

 

A Twin Cities TV crew comes, too, pulled by the current of a news story.

 

Locals headed across the Faribault Woolen Mill parking lot toward the rising Cannon River.

Locals head across the Faribault Woolen Mill parking lot toward the rising Cannon River.

 

While the gawkers gawk, the sun draws a slim line of gold between grey clouds and glassy water.

 

Three police vehicles pulled into the Faribault Foods parking lot to check on folks checking out the flooded river along Second Avenue.

 

Police and firefighters watch the river watchers.

 

The Straight River rages toward the Faribault wastewater treatment plant.

 

Blocks away the Straight River churns muddy brown, raging under the bridge near the wastewater treatment plant.

 

A hastily built berm and sandbags protect the treatment plant.

 

Truckers haul dirt to construct a make-shift temporary berm protecting this city infrastructure.

 

During past floods, there have been issues with the sewer system.

As in past floods, the city has had to deal with sewer issues. This scene is by South Alexander Park.

Memories of the September 2010 and June 2014 floods linger.

 

A flooded street by Heritage Park near the Straight river close to downtown.

A flooded street by Heritage Park near the Straight River close to downtown.

I’ve walked these roads, these sidewalks, these parking lots, this grass before, documenting the flooding.

 

In the midst of the flooding, beauty is reflected, here on the Cannon River.

In the midst of the flooding, beauty is reflected, here on the Cannon River near the Faribault Woolen Mill.

Still the scenes pull me here, into the quiet of an autumn night for the third flood in seven years.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling