UPDATE: Driver surprised by mudslide; flooding intensifies as region inundated with rain

May 15—Natasha Hanson was heading home from a friend's house in New Ulm at 3 a.m. Sunday when the branch she thought she saw on Highway 68 ended up trying to swallow her car.

The mudslide south of Courtland caught her by surprise.

"I was coming down the hill and it looked like a tree branch on the road. Then I got closer and it dawned on me it was mud and I wasn't going to stop in time. I dropped down from 60 (mph) to 40, but I hit it pretty hard."

She was not hurt and said it appears there was only cosmetic damage to her car.

Hanson had been at the friend's house when she fell asleep watching movies. "I woke up and decided I might as well go home, but I should have waited."

She works as a gasket splicer at Ilpea Industries in New Ulm and lives in rural New Ulm.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation closed the highway and cleaned up the mud and debris, reopening the highway late Sunday morning.

The Greater Mankato region was at the bull's-eye of heavy rain systems that dumped from 3 to more than 8 inches from Wednesday through the weekend, causing the mudslide as well as road flooding in the region.

Mankato crest Wednesday

Area rivers shot up dramatically and the Minnesota River is predicted to crest at a level that would put it in the top 10 highest levels ever at Henderson.

The Minnesota River at Mankato is predicted to crest Wednesday afternoon at 25.5 feet. It was at about 22 feet on Monday.

The Minnesota River Trail was closed in Mankato, and on the other side of the river, a section of Judson Bottom Road was closed Monday from Lookout Drive to Valerie Lane until further notice because of high water.

That crest would put it just outside the top 10 highest crests. The previous No. 10 crest was 26.2 feet set in 1951. The highest crest ever in Mankato was 30.1 feet in 1993.

Henderson bracing

The crest at Henderson is predicted to be 737.7 feet above sea level on Friday. It was at 733.5 Monday.

The predicted crest would put it at No. 10 for all-time high crests at Henderson, just nudging out the 2019 level of 737.6 feet above sea level.

Both Highway 19 and Highway 93 were closed from Henderson to Highway 169 on Sunday. That cuts off the two main routes in and out of town and adds commute time for travelers who have to go west out of town.

With the river not cresting until late in the week, the two road closures are likely to be fairly long term.

New Ulm near crest

The Minnesota River at New Ulm is near its crest. The river was at 800.3 feet above sea level on Monday and is to crest at 800.7 feet on Tuesday.

That crest would leave it 4.5 feet short of the No. 10 highest ever level in New Ulm.

Comfrey hit hard

Comfrey, southwest of New Ulm on the edge of Brown County, was the hardest hit in the region, getting more than 8 inches of rain.

Tammy Kelly, Comfrey's clerk-treasurer, said things are improving. "It's much better today. All of the streets are open in town," she said Monday.

"There was a lot of water. Thursday-Friday was a big hit and then more rain all day on Saturday."

Water was ponded over large parts of the town and the surrounding countryside. "A lot of the creeks around here are overflowing. We looked like lake country."

She said some businesses and many residents had water in their basements and have been pumping them out. "So far everyone has found sump pumps."

She said city crews are still assessing any damage to infrastructure, but she said the municipal building did not have water in it. "One of our parks, (covering) a city block, was completely underwater."

Drier weather ahead

Tyler Hasenstein, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Chanhassen, said they were expecting the area west and southwest of Mankato to get recurring thunderstorms. "And that's what happened."

He said Mankato received about 4 to 6 inches from Wednesday through the weekend.

Henderson got less than 3 inches.

While we will have a few days of mostly sunny and dry weather, Hasenstein said Thursday will bring some more rain across most of the state.

"There will be more scattered showers and thunderstorms with possibly a cold front bringing some widespread showers. But I don't anticipate it being as bad as last week and weekend," he said.

"After that it looks like we're trending toward a drier time for the rest of month," Hasenstein said.

Crops under water

Tom Hoverstad, a scientist at the University of Minnesota Southern Research and Outreach Center in Waseca, said rain reports in his area were between 5 and 7 inches.

"Right in Waseca our biggest 24-hour reading was 2.3 inches. That heavy rain Saturday night really got us."

He said May is already at 6 inches of rain in Waseca, which is 1.5 inches above the normal for the whole month.

For the year in Waseca, precipitation is at 16.95 inches 6.89 inches above normal.

"Our biggest problem is ponding in the fields and delayed planting. With the ponding, if the water stands a couple days, it's not detrimental, but if it stays three or four days, the corn and soybean plants will die.

"Then it's a question for the farmer of whether to replant or not."

He said about 75% of the corn in Waseca County is planted and a little over 25% of soybeans.

"We'll need a good stretch of 10 days of dry weather to get back to normal. But at least the next six- to 10-day forecast is for below normal moisture" Hoverstad said.