Ready for the Melt


My view from the dog sled. The snow’s deeper than it looks!

As we jumped out of the truck, a cacophony of 25 dogs barking, howling, yipping and yowling greeted our ears. Our hosts, Harry and Mary, smiled as they strode across the yard to welcome us to their home. For more than 40 years, the couple has lived in a little house with a wood stove and no running water, plunked down on 300 acres of forest in way northern Minnesota. During the summer, they make a living taking people on guided fishing trips into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the rest of the year, they hide away from it all, reading books, baking bread and racing across snow-covered trails with their exuberant pack of sled dogs.

My friends and I lucked out when winter relaxed its frigid grasp on Minnesota just in time for our girl’s weekend getaway. Despite the warmer air, however, snow up north is still very, very deep. When we got back to the area where Harry and Mary keep their dogs, we found well-worn paths around and between each dog’s den, which created the misleading impression that the snow was only a foot or two deep. Stepping off the trail to walk towards one of the dogs, however, I soon found myself in up to my hips. Later that day after our dogsledding adventure, we discovered that even our snow shoes were no match for the snow. We, like the dogs, were forced to stick to the paths or risk be swallowed by the great white abyss.

By the time we returned to the cities on Sunday evening, the temperature down here had climbed above 40°, and the hard pack of ice and snow encasing the sidewalks, streets and driveways around Stillwater had finally begun to melt. No doubt the cold weather will come back again for at least another punch or two, but it does finally seem possible that winter will eventually end. Surprisingly, despite all the snow, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) predicts normal to below normal flood risks for the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. Along the St. Croix River, however, there is a higher risk of flooding due to the heavier snow pack northeast of the Twin Cities. Meteorologist Paul Douglas estimates that there are three to four inches of water tied up in the snow in southern Washington County but five to six inches of water in the snow north of here. Up along the North Shore of Lake Superior, there could be up to ten inches of water released during the melt. Right now, it is hard to predict how the spring will progress. Very warm temperatures or heavy rain increase the risk of flooding, while a long, cold slow melt will keep river levels more stable.

During the upcoming weeks of thawing and freezing snow and ice, you can help to prevent localized flooding in your neighborhood by clearing a pathway for water to reach storm drains and culverts. Likewise, creating a pathway for the melt water to flow off your driveway into the yard or street will help to keep it from pooling and refreezing. If you have a chance while the weather’s still warm, take some time to tidy up the yard before melt water begins to wash abandoned toys, dog poop or litter into nearby wetlands or waterways. Shoveling up and throwing away the gunk in the street will also help to keep that from washing into storm drains that connect to our lakes and streams. 

It may not be quite spring yet, but the melt, it is a coming!