The Red River is expected to peak at Fargo-Moorhead next Wednesday or Thursday somewhere between 38 and 40 feet — with the higher level being 2 feet lower than feared in recent outlooks.
Staggered peaks in tributaries to the Red and the absorption of snow melt by previously frozen soil have reduced the maximum expected high-water mark, said National Weather Service hydrologist Greg Gust. But there remains some uncertainty with rain expected Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.
“There could be tweaks,” Gust said.
A 40-foot mark would still challenge the record of 40.8 feet set in 2009, and a 38-foot crest would be among the five highest. The cities held back the river in 2009 with emergency measures that included a massive volunteer sandbagging effort, and held back a crest of 38.8 in 2011, the fourth-highest.
Sandbagging has been underway in Fargo and Moorhead this week, but with an eye toward a possible crest of 42 feet. That will likely be dialed back with the new outlook.
Officials had expressed confidence that they were prepared even for another record flood this year, after clearing away hundreds of homes, building more extensive permanent dikes and making other infrastructure improvements.
Predictions for the crest upstream at Breckenridge, Minn., and Wahpeton, N.D., have also fallen dramatically. The river had been expected to reach about 17 feet Sunday into Monday, but that was lowered Tuesday and again Wednesday and the outlook now stands at about 15 feet.