Weather Forecast


F-M could see third consecutive major flood this spring

The rising Red River begins to swallow a stop sign in last March near the Moorhead Center Mall. Forum file photo

Here we go again.

And again.

Fargo-Moorhead faces a greater than 50 percent chance of fighting its third major flood in as many years, the National Weather Service said Friday in its first spring flood outlook of the season.

Residents in the Devils Lake, N.D., area also will get no relief from the rising lake this year, officials said.

There's a 50 percent chance Devils Lake will rise to 1,454.6 feet and a 1 percent chance it will rise to within a foot of its natural spillover into Tolna Coulee, said weather service hydrologist Mike Lukes.

Excessive rainfall last summer and fall left soils saturated and rivers running higher than normal - at record levels for this time of year at Fargo, Wahpeton and Grand Forks, said Greg Gust, warning coordination meteorologist at the weather service office in Grand Forks.

The flood outlook, which assumes below-normal temperatures and slightly above-normal precipitation, calls for a 50 percent chance the Red River in Fargo will reach 31.5 feet - major flood stage is 30 feet - and a 10 percent chance it will hit 38.2 feet, the weather service said.

Gust said it's more likely Fargo will see a flood like last spring, when the Red topped out at 36.95 feet, than one with the magnitude of 2009's record crest of 40.84 feet.

"If that's the case, am I concerned? Not too concerned," Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker told The Forum. "To me, 2010 was an exercise; 2009 was a serious event."

Still, Walaker said city officials next month will start having planning meetings, taking inventory and making sure pumps are ready to go in case of flooding.

"It's not time, by any stretch of the imagination, to push the panic button. It's too early," he said.

Gust said two of the three pieces of the spring flood puzzle are already in place:

Soil moisture levels and base stream flows are "way too high for this time of year," and the winter snowpack is on pace to be above normal in the southern Red River Valley, he said, noting the Devils Lake area already hit its season snowpack average, with some areas pushing 40 inches. The southern basin has about 15 to 20 inches of snow on the ground, while the northern basin has 8 to 15 inches, he said.

Fargo has received almost 29 inches of precipitation since Jan. 1, which is nearly 8 inches above normal. Total precipitation is about 10 inches above normal in the Otter Tail River basin in Minnesota and a foot above normal in the Devils Lake area, Gust said.

"So these precursor conditions clearly have us somewhat apprehensive," he said.

The third piece of the puzzle, the spring melt, is too far away to predict with any accuracy, Gust said.

North Dakota Homeland Security Director Greg Wilz called the outlook "somewhat alarming" and said the state will start bringing in officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Federal Emergency Management Agency after Jan. 1 to start planning a flood response.

"The bottom line is, if we end up with a 2009 (situation) where we get above-average temperatures for a week with high winds, that snow will liquefy quickly, and we could be in trouble," Wilz said.

Gust said the weather service decided to issue the season's first flood outlook in December instead of January because of the seriousness of the situation in Devils Lake.

With that looming threat upstream, Valley City, N.D., has a 30 percent chance of the Sheyenne River hitting 20.9 feet, or 3 inches higher than the 2009 record flood that wreaked havoc on the city's downtown. Farther downstream, Lisbon has a 10 percent chance of surpassing its record of 22.84 feet in 2009.

Gust said the Lake Ashtabula reservoir north of Valley City is usually effective in lowering the flood risk for those cities.

The next spring flood outlook is planned for Jan. 27.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528