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Dave Olson, Published February 18 2011

Area flood forecast takes ominous turn

Recent warm days and dry weather the past few weeks had many expecting sunny news when the National Weather Service issued its latest flood forecast Thursday.

Instead, the picture was gloomier than it was a month ago.

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said the National Weather Service numbers came as a surprise, but he stressed it is too early to accurately predict how badly or easily things will go this spring.

Forecasted spring river levels ticked upward compared to last month’s outlook for many cities in the Red River Valley, and the ramifications remain ominous.

There’s about a 20 percent chance that Fargo and Moorhead, Valley City, N.D., and Hendrum and Oslo, Minn., will see flooding that matches or exceeds record levels.

Chances of the same thing happening in Halstad, Minn., and Grand Forks are near 15 percent.

Reasons for that include high moisture levels in the soil and heavy flows in rivers and streams, the weather service said.

Also, larger-than-expected releases from Baldhill Dam and Lake Ashtabula northwest of Valley City will affect flows on the Sheyenne River in North Dakota.

Those releases are expected to have the greatest effect on Valley City and Lisbon, which saw potential river stages jump about a foot from the January outlook.

Weather service spokesman Greg Gust said the recent thaw helped because about a quarter of an inch of moisture was taken out of the picture through evaporation.

But he warned that the region should expect serious flooding even if no additional precipitation falls between now and the spring melt.

“There’s still too much (moisture) in the system. We didn’t take enough away,” Gust said.

He said chances are good that cities such as Kindred, West Fargo and Harwood in North Dakota will see river levels close to those reached in 2009.

The picture also looks wet for Grafton, N.D.

“Grafton does have a 25 percent chance of exceeding its 1950 record,” Gust said.

The weather service expects higher-than-normal precipitation and cooler-than-normal temperatures in the coming weeks.

“We’re expecting at least another inch of precipitation before all is said and done, and it could be 3, 4 or more inches,” Gust said. The risk of additional moisture, he added, “pushes everything very high.”

Gust said the latest flood outlook took into account present conditions and “what has occurred over like springs for the past 60 or more years.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555