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Probability of major flood stage now tops 80% in Stillwater

Some roads and parking lots have been closed as the city adds concrete barriers along 2,000 feet of the waterfront.

STILLWATER, Minn. — We all know Minnesota winters can get cold and long, this year especially.

In fact, we have yet to hit 50 degrees in the Twin Cities, meaning all that snow hasn't melted much and that's making the chance for flooding even worse.

"We just have to wait and see what happens with the weather," said Stillwater Engineer Shawn Sanders, who has held that position for 17 years. 

His crews are preparing the city for a major flood and have already closed the iconic lift bridge and some streets and parking lots closest to the St. Croix River. 

The National Weather Service (NWS) released its latest, and likely final, spring flood outlook of the season on Thursday. And now there's an 80% chance the river will reach the major flood stage, which is 10% higher than two weeks ago.

"It'll be all under water if their forecast holds true," said Sanders, who's concerned despite leading the city through several other floods. 

"This year is standing out for a couple of reasons," said Sanders. "I don't remember snow being on the ground this late in the season and just the moisture in the snow is concerning."

The persistent chilly temperatures have yet to melt much snow that NWS hydrologist Craig Schmidt says is still packed with up to six inches of water in some places. 

"The longer we hold onto a deep snowpack, the more a threat it becomes," said Schmidt, who is the author of the flood outlook and predicts this time that the river could rise another foot. That's still five feet less than the record set back in 1965.

Schmidt says a foot can be troublesome. "It certainly is if it's over-topping barriers there, it certainly does matter."

There will be 2,000 feet of concrete barriers lining the waterfront. Next week, the city will build a dyke and volunteers will start to fill up to 50,000 sandbags. 

"I hope it's just three weeks of weather like this and no rain," said Sanders.

"I've got good news for the next seven days or so and that's the 40s and 20s with almost no rainfall expected," said Schmidt - a perfect recipe to help slow the melt and perhaps lessen the flood threat. 

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