River locks around St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minn. were expected to close on Tuesday due to rising water conditions, further delaying the latest tow arrival to St. Paul in the last 30 years. "We're looking at having to close the three Twin Cities locks. We've hit 1997 flood levels, and we may have to close locks 2, 3, 4, 5 and 5a on the Mississippi," said Dennis Erickson
, chief of operations for the Army Corps of Engineers in St. Paul.
The closings affect 120 miles of the upper Mississippi River from Minneapolis south to Winona, Minn.
Based on current weather forecasts for the area, the Army Corps of Engineers anticipated closing the locks to all river traffic from April 10 through April 20. Water levels on the Mississippi have
risen more than two feet in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area over the last 24 hours and were expected to continue rising over the next several days.
The river was forecast to crest on April 15 at St. Anthony Falls in downtown Minneapolis, Erickson said.
Weekend storms dropped two to three inches of rain on the Twin Cities and rising temperatures caused additional snowmelt in the area, according the Weather Services Corp. meteorologist Dave Taylor.
"It's a combination of three things: deep snow coverage, warm temperatures and the heavy rainfall. It was an exceptionally intense storm," Taylor said.
With the rain and temperatures rising into the 50s Fahrenheit, about 80 percent of Southern Minnesota's snow cover has now melted and run off. Forecasts for the next 48 hours called for dry weather, so river levels were expected to stabilize. But remaining snowpack in northern Minnesota could
add additional water if another big storm hits, Taylor said.
River officials said colder than normal winter temperatures and a cool spring prevented river ice from melting at a normal rate. The first barge tow has yet to arrive in St. Paul due to continued icy conditions on an eight-mile stretch of the river around Lake Pepin, about 80 miles south of St. Paul. An April 2 ice measurement on the lake showed 14 to 23 inches of solid blue ice from mile markers 766 to 773.
"The blue ice has to be down to about 6 to 8 inches before anybody will try to push through it," Erickson said.
Another ice measurement was planned for Monday, but tows will have to wait until the locks are reopened before making the trek to St. Paul, he said. Before this year, the latest tow to arrive in St. Paul over the last 30 years was April 7, and the average first date of arrival during that time was March 19. - (Reuters)