Spring flood risk rises for Fargo, Red River Valley

  • Article by: BILL MCAULIFFE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 21, 2013 - 9:00 PM

Recent snows are storing a lot of water on top of frozen ground, increasing the odds of Red River Valley flooding.

Surrounded by Red River.
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A Fargo, N.D., subdivision is surrounded by flood waters from the swollen Red River on sunday.

Photo: M. Spencer Green), Associated Press

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Above-normal rain and snowfall totals since October have boosted the chances of spring flooding in the Red River Valley, the National Weather Service said Thursday.

Snow across the upstream reaches of the north-flowing Red now holds the equivalent of more than 5 inches of rain, National Weather Service hydrologist Greg Gust said. Depending on how the snow melts, it could cause rivers to swell and farmland to flood.

Still, city engineers from Fargo, N.D., the valley’s population center, said they don’t expect major inconveniences to residents or travelers due to high water.

Fargo now has a 79 percent chance of a “major” flood over the next three months. But the river has reached that stage seven times since 1997. Although the river crested almost 11 feet higher than the major flood level in 2009, at a record 40.84 feet, a massive sandbagging and public works effort prevented widespread losses. There’s now a 20 percent chance the Red could reach a top 10 level height this year.

Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management director Kris Eide said millions of dollars of mitigation efforts in recent years, which include major infrastructure improvements and home removals in Moorhead, Minn., as well as in Fargo, have reduced the threat posed by major floods.

There are currently no other locations along Minnesota’s major rivers that face high probabilities of major flooding. The outlook from the Weather Service will be updated March 7.

River watchers indicated that a slow, dry warm-up would be ideal, allowing frost on the ground beneath the snow to thaw. That, in turn, would allow the soil to absorb the moisture in the snow.

Across much of Minnesota, soil moisture below the frozen surface is at extremely low levels, causing concerns for farmers and water managers.

 

Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646

 

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