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Patrick Springer, Published October 28 2010

Up to 8 inches of snow falls

A fierce storm dumped up to 8 inches of snow in North Dakota this week and doused Fargo-Moorhead with almost 2 inches of rain that will push the Red River above flood stage.

In Minnesota, Fergus Falls received 2.99 inches of rain and 3.5 inches of snow. Nearby Pelican Rapids received 4 inches of snow.

The massive storm, caused by a rapid plunge in atmospheric pressure, whipped the region with high winds Tuesday and Wednesday, with the top gust of 64 miles an hour recorded late Tuesday in Fargo.

In Fargo-Moorhead, high winds toppled several streetlights and knocked tree limbs onto power lines overnight, leaving some residents temporarily without power at half a dozen locations.

North Dakota’s heaviest snow, from 4 to 8 inches, fell in a band stretching from the Williston area east to Minot, extending southeast to the Dickinson area, then east to Bismarck and east of Jamestown.

Snowy roads and poor visibility in western and central North Dakota caused a spate of no-travel advisories Wednesday. In the Bismarck area, drifting snow caused several accidents.

On Interstate 94 west of Mandan, N.D., a semi-truck jackknifed, causing eastbound lanes to be temporarily closed Wednesday.

Between Devils Lake and Fort Totten, N.D., winds sent 8-foot waves crashing over North Dakota Highway 57, leaving debris and creating hazardous conditions.

The highway is closed south of Devils Lake from the junction of North Dakota Highway 20 to Fort Totten until further notice.

The high winds caused scattered power failures in North Dakota and Minnesota, including an area of five to 10 square miles east of Breckenridge, Minn., causing rural residents to use generators and wood-burning stoves.

Except for light snow, accumulating in areas as a thin coat of slush, Fargo-Moorhead’s precipitation fell as rain, despite predictions the area could get 5 or 6 inches of snow.

Cold air from Canada and central North Dakota didn’t rush in as quickly as expected around the F-M area, so temperatures didn’t drop below freezing as predicted. Also, the metro area has a slight urban heat island effect, said Geoff Grochochinski, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

“I’d say those were the two main reasons,” Fargo-Moorhead escaped the significant snows that blanketed areas to the west, he said.

Fargo had been experiencing the driest October on record, going back to 1881, with only a trace of rain until Sunday, when a hundredth of an inch fell.

That was followed by 0.43 inches Monday, 1.21 inches Tuesday and 0.61 inches as of Wednesday afternoon – enough to rank this fall to date the seventh wettest on record, according to Adnan Akyuz, the North Dakota state climatologist.

Incidentally, the 1.21 inches recorded Tuesday in Fargo broke the record for the date, which earlier was 0.84 inches in 1996, he said.

Thus far this year, Fargo’s precipitation is 7.44 inches above normal.

The heavy rains are expected to send the Red River, which had reached 16.71 feet Wednesday afternoon, to a minor flood crest at 18.5 feet Monday and Tuesday, the National Weather Service predicted.

The threshold for minor flood stage in Fargo-Moorhead is 18 feet.

Given that the precipitation outlook for Fargo this fall calls for near normal, “We shouldn’t receive any significant precipitation from now into the beginning of the winter,” Akyuz said.

The National Weather Service forecast for the next seven days calls for dry and mild conditions.

“The hope is we won’t get any more major systems after this, and the rivers can absorb this and flush themselves” before the winter freeze settles in, Grochochinski said.

He refrained from making any predictions about possible spring floods, saying, “It’s just too early to tell.”

Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki contributed to this report.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522