Residents of the Red River’s first flooding target got a bit of good news Tuesday when the National Weather Service scaled down Sunday’s expected river crest by half a foot.
A recent slow melt, a soil thaw and a forecast calling for little rain prompted the Weather Service to drop the peak expected at Breckenridge, Minn., and Wahpeton, N.D., where the Red is formed by the Otter Tail and Bois de Sioux rivers.
The predicted peak would be about the sixth-highest on record and nearly 3 feet below the record reached in 1997.
The Weather Service may announce a crest Wednesday for Fargo-Moorhead, the largest U.S. population center along the north-flowing Red, where crests generally arrive about four days after leaving Breckenridge-Wahpeton. The agency forecasts crest heights only within seven days of their expected occurrence, but it has been indicating a 40 percent chance of a record crest at Fargo-Moorhead.
The downgrade at Breckenridge-Wahpeton won’t make a significant practical difference with the river at an already high level, said Tom Richels, retired Wilkin County engineer who is acting as a consultant for the county on spring flooding. But Richels said he expects more downgrades in the coming days.
The Weather Service has indicated the Red might crest at Fargo-Moorhead somewhere between 38 and 42 feet. The record there is 40.8, set in 2009.
Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said he is confident the city can contain even a record flood. “No question about it,” he said.
The city is building temporary clay dikes to a 44-foot protection level and will decide how high to stack sandbags once the Weather Service announces its crest prediction, Walaker said. The city has nearly 2 million sandbags on hand.
“Hopefully we won’t have to use all of them,” Walaker said.
Fargo-Moorhead and Breckenridge-Wahpeton have reduced their vulnerabilities to flood damage in recent years by removing hundreds of homes, building permanent levees and making other infrastructure improvements.
Also Tuesday, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple asked President Obama for a disaster declaration that would provide federal funds to cover flood damage in 14 counties and an Indian reservation.