‘Wait and see’: Austin, Mower County prepares for flooding

Published 7:45 am Thursday, March 14, 2019

As water is beginning to rise, the city of Austin and Mower County are keeping their eyes peeled on potential flooding.

Rain is expected to continue through today, accelerating the snow-melting rate, and the National Weather Service has placed a flood watch on the area effective until 7 a.m. on Friday.

On Wednesday morning, motorists driving west on Interstate 90 were unable to take exit 180A onto Oakland Place after the Minnesota Department of Transportation closed the exit due to water over the ramp. MnDOT crews were on scene trying to clear the exit.

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Drivers on Interstate 90 also experienced dense fog Wednesday morning as the area was under a dense fog advisory. MnDOT reported visibility on Interstate 90 to be only 0.17 miles northeast of Dexter.

Wait and see

There have been limited to no reports of any incidents that were caused by flooding around the Mower County area as of Wednesday afternoon, aside from a few isolated areas where individuals were having issues, according to Mike Hanson, Mower County Public Works director.

“We have some sandbags that we’re providing at this point, and if people need some they can come up and get filled ones until we run out,” Hanson said. “It may be helpful if they can fill their own.”

So far, Mower County is mostly “on guard and alerted” to potential flooding in the area. Hanson said that crews from Public Works are already on top of things to prepare for any major issues that may occur over the next few days, though it seems unlikely.

“We kind of know the drill, and we make sure we stay on top of it,” he said. “There’s nothing really major yet. We hope there may not be. We’re fairly optimistic at this point. We’ve had street flooding occurring, of course, and we got ditches full of snow and water from that. Hopefully it won’t all break up all at once before inundating into the creeks. We’re watching and we got our guard up.”

Although it’s been a while since Mower County experienced this amount of snow, and is now facing significant increases in water, there weren’t any major concerns yet as to how river levels were looking.

“It could change, we don’t know yet,” Hanson said. “Mother Nature doesn’t tell us what’s gonna happen. People need to pay attention and not drive through high water. Just be cautious about traveling and pay attention to the barricades and signs that are up.”

Despite the rain accelerating the melting snow, City Engineer Steven Lang said that flooding on city streets has not been significant.

“We have a lot of catch basins that are filled with snow and are backing up, as well as some ditches and culverts also backing up, but no reports of flooding,” he said.

While the Austin Public Works Department is keeping an eye on potential flood risks, Lang previously stated that Austin has not had a spring melt flood since the 1960s.

Potholes becoming an issue

As the snow melts, potholes on city streets are becoming more prevalent. Lang said city street crews are working to fix the problem.

“The amount of frost has caused a lot of heaving, causing panels and paving to move in different areas,” he said. “We are getting some potholes, so we have a crew going around putting cold mixture in those potholes to alleviate the bumps. This is just a temporary repair to get us through. In spring, when we get drier temperatures, we will do more permanent repairs.”

The street crews’ efforts will primarily be focused on main and secondary roads that see heavy travel, Lang said.

Austin Daily Herald reporters Michael Stoll and Hannah Yang contributed to this report.