MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Torrential rain caused flash flooding in the Twin Cities area on Thursday, as another round of storms buffeted Minnesota during a particularly wet week for the state.
Gov. Mark Dayton issued an emergency declaration Thursday and sent the National Guard to the International Falls area to aid flood-fighting efforts. Although forecasters warned of further thunderstorms later Thursday for southern Minnesota, they said that should clear the way for sunshine on Friday and a chance to dry out.
The National Weather Service issued multiple flash flood warnings as 2 to 5 inches of rain fell on the metro area, with more waves of heavy precipitation forecast. In Minneapolis, the already swollen Minnehaha Creek rose nearly a foot overnight and overflowed its banks in several places.
A lightning strike apparently hit gas meters and started fires that damaged three homes in the suburb of Lakeville, Fire Chief Mike Meyer said.
The storms were just the latest to drench Minnesota communities since last weekend, causing lakes and streams to rise from the far southwest corner of the state up to the Canadian border.
Street flooding was common in the Twin Cities area. At one point early Thursday there was about a foot of water over Minnesota Highway 77 near the Mall of America in Bloomington.
South of the metro area, U.S. Highway 169 was submerged in the Belle Plaine area and between St. Peter and Le Sueur, on the way to Mankato, which was hit hard Wednesday. Highway crews were out clearing mudslides again Thursday in south-central parts of Minnesota.
Dayton's state-of-emergency declaration for 35 counties makes a wide range of state resources available to affected communities and gets state agencies more involved in the response. He also directed the Minnesota National Guard to send 100 soldiers to Koochiching County in the far north to help in the fight against rising waters on the Rainy River and Rainy Lake.
The Department of Public Safety on Thursday fully activated its State Emergency Operations Center, which it partially activated earlier this week.
"We're ramping up our efforts to help communities across the state that are dealing with storm damage and high water due to the recent heavy rains," said Kris Eide, the state's emergency management director.
Dayton canceled plans to visit Marshall for a groundbreaking on Thursday and instead headed to Mankato and Owatonna to meet with local officials and to assess flood damage. Dayton plans to join Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken on Friday in assessing damage in southern Minnesota.
On the bright side, the rainfall has extinguished the last remaining patch of drought in Minnesota. Thursday's weekly update from the U.S. Drought Monitor showed the state completely free of drought for the first time in nearly two years.
The Drought Monitor map had been showing a slowly shrinking area of drought and abnormally dry conditions in the state's southwestern corner for the last several weeks. That included the Luverne area, which was drenched over the weekend and again Monday. Luverne has now received nearly 13 inches of rain since June 1, said Pete Boulay, a climatologist with the Department of Natural Resources.
Weather watchers are keeping an eye out to see if any Minnesota community breaks the statewide rainfall record for June, which was 15.63 inches in the southern Minnesota town of Mapleton in 2010, Boulay said.