Authorities anticipated a severe spring flood across the Prairies this year and several areas are already seeing waters reach dangerous heights.
Saturated grounds left from the spring of 2010 combined with heavy snow this winter have caused many creeks and rivers to overflow. Water levels have also risen to extreme levels in some places.
“Characteristics such as the size of the watershed, its drainage pattern, how steep or not the river gradient is and how the floodplains and main tributaries are laid out can determine flood risk at a given location,” explains Bryn Jones, a meteorologist at The Weather Network. “Ice jams and how much water is actually contained in the snowpack are other considerations.”
A flood watch issued in southeastern Alberta has residents living in low lying areas on high alert. Officials say the Seven Persons, Bullshead and Ross Creeks rose quickly overnight on Monday. A local state of emergency was declared in the city of Medicine Hat on Tuesday after officials expected a dam that forms the Old Seven Persons Lake reservoir to give way.
Premier Ed Stelmach toured the reservoir and met with emergency management officials in Medicine Hat on Wednesday. He was positive about the situation. “We're definitely better prepared this time (in comparison to the 2010 floods),” he said.
Meanwhile, a day after the city issued an evacuation alert for about 650 flood-prone homes, a further 41 houses downstream of the river were asked to leave just in case. More than 25,000 sandbags were handed out in the 'flats' neighbourhood (an area of town near the bank of the South Saskatchewan River).
The record snow pack continues to melt and more precipitation is piling up. The thaw is considered to be one of the largest the region has seen in decades.
In Saskatchewan, the Watershed Authority expects all of the reservoirs in the southeast and southwestern parts of the province to 'fill and spill.' Rising floodwaters have forced several parts of the Trans-Canada Highway to shut down due to dangerous conditions. One of the biggest disruptions reported so far was the westbound lane between Regina and Grenfell.
Over 200 people were evacuated from the Cowessess First Nation after rising water washed out the main road in the area Tuesday night.
Some areas including Swift Current could see record high water levels this spring. Residents in the area are preparing for the worst and safety officials have sent teams to help set up flood barriers and sandbags in the region.
Local reservoirs are filling up fast in Manitoba as well. Almost 700 people have been forced from their homes and are heading to higher ground. Officials warn that rising waters can become extremely dangerous at this time of year.
Water has already submerged several roadways and in one area, the situation turned deadly last weekend. A man who was just a few kilometres away from his home in Niverville drowned after his vehicle was swept away by flood waters on Saturday.
Hundreds of provincial highways and roads are either swamped or in danger of flooding. Several communities have also declared local states of emergency.
Ice jams are threatening Manitoba's Red and Assiniboine Rivers. Water levels are expected to rise by more than a foot near Holland, Manitoba. Based on the new Provincial forecast report released on Wednesday, the Red River is expected to peak soon after the Easter long weekend. As a result of the latest forecast, the number of homes requiring protection has been reduced from 560 to 129.
Sturgeon Creek levels have dropped and Ness Avenue is now open to traffic. The river level of 6.9 metres is still considered significant and officials in Winnipeg continue to monitor the situation.
On Wednesday, ice jams and swollen streams forced officials to declare a state of emergency in the Peguis First Nation north of Winnipeg. Almost 300 people were evacuated as a precautionary measure.
For areas in Souris, a small amount of runoff has caused problems for the town's water treatment and residents are being warned to boil their water before using it.
The latest damage is being bore by the Souris Swinging Bridge, as it was hit by a sizable piece of ice. This severed Manitoba's longest suspension bridge so significantly, it will most likely mean the popular tourist attraction will be closed through the summer months and possibly beyond. Officials say they have to wait for the ground to freeze in order to bring in heavy machinery, which won't happen until September. As a result, the bridge is unlikely to be frequented by tourists for the rest of the year.
In order to protect lives and property from an above-average flood, Manitoba's government has contracted Alberta's Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society (STARS) to perform helicopter evacuations and rescues if necessary.
With files from The Canadian Press, Jill Colton, Lyndsay Morrison, Sana Ahmed and Winnipeg Free Press