BISMARCK, N.D. — Heavy rain falling atop deeply frozen ground has prompted evacuations along swollen rivers in Wisconsin, Nebraska and other Midwestern states, while powerful wind and snow has closed hundreds of miles of interstates in North Dakota.
The flooding is likely to persist into the weekend in states where frozen ground is preventing rain and snowmelt from soaking into the soil.
No travel was advised March 15 in areas near Fargo, N.D., as heavy snow and poor visibility prompted officials to close two interstates. In South Dakota, schools in Rapid City were closed as authorities dug out from a blizzard, while flooding on the other side of the state prompted officials in Sioux Falls to go door-to-door and evacuate residents from homes.
Flooding made several highways impassable in Wisconsin, where rescuers in Fond du Lac had to move residents to higher ground after flooding along the Fond du Lac River. And a tornado that swept through mid-Michigan late March 14 damaged at least 21 homes and knocked out power to thousands of people, according to state police and first-responders. No injuries were immediately reported.
The swollen Pecatonica River spills into downtown Darlington, Wis. (Dave Kettering/Associated Press)
The system, which moved into the Midwest after crippling parts of Colorado and Wyoming with blizzard conditions, was expected to move into Minnesota and Illinois, including Chicago, with rain later turning to snow, according to the National Weather Service.
But the effects aren’t expected to be as bad as what was seen March 14 in Nebraska and Iowa, where quickly rising water washed out roads, triggered evacuations and left farmers worried that all the water would drown livestock.
“With the frozen ground and amount of rain our area had, it was just a perfect set of circumstances that led to the flooding we’re seeing in Nebraska and Iowa,” meteorologist Paul Fajman said.
Local residents who had to evacuate will be cleaning up the damage for some time.
“It was ugly. It still is,” Jim Freeman said after using a chain saw to cut up a chunk of ice that floodwaters left in his driveway in Fremont, Neb. “There’s a lot of damage.”
A man works his way through a flooded Galena Street as the Pecatonica River continues to rise in Darlington, Wis. (Dave Kettering/Associated Press)
Many of the homes in Freeman’s neighborhood were inundated by water that flowed in from the Platte River. Fajman said parts of northeastern Iowa also can expect more flooding March 15 and into the weekend.
Emergency crews responded after a vehicle was swept off a road in Norfolk, Neb., and rising water along the Elkhorn River prompted evacuations in the city of 24,000 people. The missing motorist had not been found by late March 14.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem closed all state offices March 14 as the blizzard conditions moved in, and later in the day ordered the opening of the state’s Emergency Operations Center to handle the response to the blizzard and flooding. Rainfall records were set March 13 in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Sioux City, Iowa.
“We’ve got a lot of water, and it’s got to find a way to get out of here,” said Tracy West, mayor of Lennox, S.D.