Fargo-Moorhead snow total moves past 2009 mark
Only time will tell if the spring flood will be worse than in 2009, but Fargo-Moorhead already blew by one foreboding mark from that winter.
The Tuesday-Wednesday storm pushed the metro's snowfall total past 2009's mark and into fourth place on the list of all-time snowiest winters.
Prior to Tuesday, the metro had tallied 74 inches of snowfall this season.
The two-day storm tacked on 8.1 inches by 5 p.m. Wednesday, lifting the total to 82.1 inches. That's just short of the 82.3 inches in 1936-37, the third snowiest winter in National Weather Service records dating back to 1881.
Only the winters of 1993-94 (89.1 inches) and 1996-97 (117 inches) were snowier.
The storm shut down stretches of Interstates 29 and 94 west and north of Fargo until 1 p.m. Tuesday, delayed mail delivery and prompted school and business closures in the metro and beyond.
As the region dug out from the storm, thoughts turned to how the rain and snow that fell will affect the weather service's spring flood outlook, which is expected to be updated sometime between today and Saturday.
"I can't imagine those guys are going to change it much," Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said.
The weather service had figured an additional 2 inches of precipitation into its last flood outlook issued March 3, when it said Fargo and Wahpeton had a roughly 35 percent risk of surpassing 2009 flood levels.
The two-day storm produced 1.43 inches of precipitation in Fargo-Moorhead, pushing its total for the month just past the 2-inch mark.
However, it's too early to predict how the moisture and below-freezing temperatures forecast through Monday will affect flooding, said Mark Ewens, data manager for the weather service in Grand Forks.
The freeze-up should stop melting and "lock everything up" in terms of snowmelt runoff, although water already running in ditches may continue to slowly make its way toward rivers and streams, Ewens said.
Fargo set a record Tuesday for daily maximum precipitation, with 0.89 of an inch recorded at Hector International Airport, breaking the previous record of 0.86 of an inch set on March 22, 1894.
The additional moisture could boost the odds of a record flood, Ewens said.
"But again, it depends on the melt," he said. "If we have a '95-96 kind of melt that lasts well into April with no real (precipitation) on top of it, you have a big flood, but it's manageable. But if we get a rain and a warm-up here in another two weeks or so, then it's a whole different ballgame."
The weather service said the potential exists for another significant storm system to hit the Northern Plains later next week.
"There are indications right now that the bulk of that is going to go south of us, but you know, that far out it's kind of a crapshoot," Ewens said.
When the next flood outlook is released will depend on how long it takes to gather data from the storm and run it through computer models, he said.
Walaker said it's fortunate that most of the moisture Tuesday fell as snow instead of rain, which runs off faster. The mayor, well known for his flood prognostications, said he believes the Red River at Fargo will crest "somewhere between 37 and 38" feet, which would be well below the 2009 record crest of 40.84 feet. Earlier this year, Walaker predicted a crest in the high 30s and revised it to say he'd be shocked if the Red crested above 41 feet.
Walaker said the river typically takes nine to 10 days to crest from the time it rises over its flood stage of 18 feet. That should give the city "plenty of time" to deploy sandbags and place them, which is expected to take about six days, he said.
This week's storm dumped 19.5 inches of snow on Mayville, N.D., which appeared to be the hardest hit area.
Traill County dispatcher Dorothea Tufte said semitrailers were among the vehicles that got stuck on
I-29 between Fargo and Grand Forks before it closed at 12:30 a.m.
"They weren't in the ditch. They were just on the road, and there was so much snow they got stuck," she said, adding that wreckers pulled them out.
The storm produced about an inch of precipitation in Forman, Grandin, Lisbon, in North Dakota, and Wadena, Minn., while Valley City, N.D., reported 1.25 inches and Mayville's pounding added up to 1.71 inches of precipitation, the weather service said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528