Minot was a city on edge Thursday.
The day that began under long-awaited sunshine marking the beginning of a typical summer day in North Dakota was quickly marred by news that the Souris River was poised to deliver what amounts to another devastating blow.
The spear thrust into the heart of a city already reeling against historic flows in the Souris was news that even more water was coming. Too much water. Way too much water, and arriving much too quickly.
Unable to adhere to a release schedule confidently announced earlier this week, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers delivered staggering news to a community desperately seeking any sign of relief regarding the Souris. Lake Darling, the pristine and popular fishing reservoir located in the heart of the Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge less than 30 minutes up river from Minot, would be releasing 26,000 cubic feet per second of water early today. The news was another unforgettable setback to already beleaguered residents.
"It's a stupendous amount of water for the Souris," said Alan Schlag, National Weather Service hydrologist in Bismarck. "The cat is way out of the bag and there's a lot of pain heading toward Minot."
Providing that pain will be the water rolling down the Souris River Valley, a flow that is angrily ripping a new course of travel never before experienced in the known history of the basin. Buoyed by powerful and thunderous releases from reservoirs in southern Saskatchewan, the Souris is using its late-season power to overwhelm Lake Darling and continue its relentless and merciless rampage on the Magic City.
Chris Aarhus/MDN • The rising Souris River completely surrounded this house west of Minot this week, despite the best sandbagging efforts of the homeowners. With increased flows from Lake Darling coming today, more homes will be inundated in the days ahead. The actual forecast issued by the NWS called for a peak at Minot’s Broadway Bridge of 1,564.5 feet on Saturday.
Chris Bieri/MDN • City employee Dave Rodman directs traffic on Broadway shortly after the road was closed to allow trucks quick access to aid dike work.
Chris Bieri/MDN • With higher Souris River flows coming Minot’s way, crews rushed to raise the secondary dike near the Broadway Bridge.
Bryan L. Obenchain/MDN • The swiftly rising Souris River continued to pour over dikes and into the streets of Minot Thursday, flooding homes and sweeping debris along with it. These homes, in the neighborhood west of Minot’s Broadway Bridge, were among the first to take on water.
Bryan L. Obenchain/MDN • These cars were quickly inundated by water when the Souris River began its climb. The vehicles will no doubt be completely under water later this week.
"What's happening here," explained Schlag, "is that the Souris has finally gone so far out of its banks that we are seeing significant flow short-circuiting the normal meandering course of the river. It is now wall-to-wall throughout the valley and is traveling in a straight line."
The rampaging juggernaut is re-writing the record books. An accustomed flow time of roughly five days from Lake Darling to Minot is now taking as little as two days. That is lightning quick by river standards.
"What's driving the chariot right now is that more water is materializing faster at Sherwood and Lake Darling than previously expected," said Schlag. "The reality is, Lake Darling started rising faster even with more water coming out."
Flow at the Sherwood gauge was 30,000-plus cfs and ripping toward a fast-rising Lake Darling Thursday. Forecasters, hydrologists and the Corps continue to monitor all available data, searching for ways to lessen the blow to Minot and other points along the river. But it may prove to be little more than wishful thinking. The dreaded hour when the amount of outflow is equal to the amount of inflow appears to be approaching.
"The Corps redid their release schedule for Lake Darling," said Schlag. "Opinions change from day to day and, clearly, from morning to evening."
Early reports following the announcement of increased releases had the Souris surging to 1,566 feet in Minot, some two feet above earlier lofty predictions. The actual forecast issued by the NWS called for a peak at Minot's Broadway Bridge of 1,564.5 feet on Saturday.
Nevertheless, the upward revision resulted in a flurry of activity within the city as many additional residents began the arduous task of evacuating from outside the mandatory zones. No mandatory order was issued by Minot Mayor Curt Zimbelman Thursday.
A concentration of contractors and equipment converged on the ever-growing Fourth Avenue Northeast dike Thursday. The massive structure needed to be raised approximately two feet to be large enough to tussle with the latest river projections issued Thursday.