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Fargo snowfall running above normal, but below last year's

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FARGO -- Now that the rain, snow and ice left by the latest winter storm is hardening with the bitter cold, thoughts in the Red River Valley turn warily to the spring thaw.

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How do this winter's accumulated snowfall and moisture compare to normal - and to the amounts received at this time last year, the precursor to the record flood?

The short answer in Fargo-Moorhead: Both cumulative snowfall and moisture are above the norm but below last year's horrendous pace.

As of Monday night, when the blustery snowstorm finally faded, Fargo had received 36.3 inches of snow for the season.

That's 10 inches above the 26.2 inches considered normal as of Jan. 31, but more than 6 inches less than the 42.5 inches of snow that fell last year by that date.

Similarly, total moisture in Fargo since July 1, 14.64 inches, is above the normal 11.94 inches, but well below the 19.35 inches as of Jan. 31 last year.

"The fall last year was considerably, considerably wetter," said Mark Ewens of the National Weather Service in Grand Forks. "This fall didn't come anywhere close."

The National Weather Service is formulating its next Red River Valley flood outlook, an assessment that will be released Friday morning.

The latest storm, which arrived in two waves spanning Friday to Monday, left about 1.3 inches of moisture, according to the National Weather Service.

The last flood outlook predicted a 50-50 chance of major flooding this spring. Major flood stage on the Red River in Fargo begins at 30 feet. Last spring's record crest was 40.82 feet.

This winter's El Nino has not departed from the classic pattern, which normally results in above-normal temperatures and normal or below precipitation.

Ewens expects the "hybrid El Nino" to continue a "relatively wet" winter trend, but Adnan Akyuz, the North Dakota state climatologist, believes the El Nino means winter should finish with normal or below precipitation.

That's unlike last year, a La Nina year, which was unusually wet, as forecast, he said.

"We cannot predict above-normal precipitation this time," said Akyuz, noting the El Nino conditions were late in arriving this winter, suggesting they should persist.

Meteorologists and hydrologists are paying close attention, Ewens said, mindful of last year's record flood and public angst.

Until the spring thaw, a lot can happen, including the timing and amounts of future precipitation, and whether the melt comes quickly or gradually.

"We'll be watching it closely," Ewens said.

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