WDAY.com

WDAZ: Your Home Team

Published February 17, 2011, 10:22 AM

NWS Predicts Increased Chance Of Major Flooding Along Red River

The National Weather Service on Thursday slightly increased its estimated odds for major flooding along the Red River in eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota, despite a period of little precipitation in the area.

By: Dave Kolpack, Associated Press

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — The National Weather Service on Thursday slightly increased its estimated odds for major flooding along the Red River in eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota, despite a period of little precipitation in the area.

The weather service said it believes there's a 22 percent chance the river will surpass the record crest of 40.84 feet set in 2009 in Fargo and neighboring Moorhead, Minn. Last month's prediction was 20 percent. There's a 70 percent chance the river in the Fargo area will beat last year's crest of about 37 feet, which was the sixth-highest on record.

Recent warm weather has decreased the depth of the snowpack in many areas, but the water content remains high and the recent thaw will have little impact on the level of flooding, weather service meteorologist Greg Gust said.

"And guess what, winter conditions are coming back," he said.

The probability is measured by precipitation and moisture content in the soil, water in the snowpack and the expected spring thaw cycle. The forecast is scheduled to be updated on March 3.

The recent dry pattern was typical for this time of year, Gust said. The longer-term outlook calls for above-normal precipitation in March, April and May. There's a chance of snow in eastern North Dakota on Thursday night.

The Fargo-Moorhead area has had major flooding the past two springs. Officials earlier this week started filling sandbags in Fargo, hoping to have 3 million ready for this year's fight.

Gust said it was a good idea to start preparing for flooding early.

"Unfortunately this outlook doesn't take any pressure off that," Gust said. "It pretty much says, 'Keep going.'"

He said it's difficult to predict when the river will crest in Fargo, but models are showing it will happen in the first week of April. Of the top 10 crests in history, only two happened before April: March 28 in 2009 and March 21 last year.

The forecast jumped for communities along the Sheyenne River, which dumps into the Red River north of Fargo. Valley City has a 50 percent chance of reaching an 18-foot crest, up from 16.7 feet predicted last month. The Sheyenne has a 50 percent chance of reaching 19.9 feet, up from 19.1 feet last month, the weather service said.

The flood outlook for Devils Lake showed little change from last month. The weather service said there's about a 70 percent chance that the lake will rise 3 feet higher than its current level. The lake has risen nearly 30 feet and quadrupled in size since 1993, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.

Devils Lake was about 70 square miles in 1993. University of North Dakota geography professor Paul Todhunter has said a 3-foot rise this year could push the lake past 300 square miles.

Public health officials are working to create registries of vulnerable people, including the frail elderly and the disabled, so a database is available if evacuations become necessary. During the 2009 flooding, hospitals and nursing homes in the two cities evacuated about 2,700 people as a precaution.

Tags: