Matt Von Pinnon, Published March 20 2011
Von Pinnon: Thanks to 2009, intensity of today’s flood fights pale
Two years ago today, the Red in Fargo eclipsed 18 feet – minor flood stage – on its way eight days later to a crest of 40.82 feet, the highest level since man began putting a numbered stick in the river at Fargo to record such things.
These tight time frames from the start of flooding to top-level crests stand out in our minds because they are relatively fresh. But the circumstances of the epic 2009 flood probably won’t be repeated anytime soon. Consider these tidbits from the book “Will Over Water: How the Red River region rallied to fight the flood of 2009”:
- In late February that year, forecasters predict a 60 percent chance the Red at Fargo will rise above 35 feet and a 10 percent chance it will rise above 38.5 feet.
- March 10: A snowstorm dumps more than 10 inches of snow in Fargo.
- March 19: Bad news: The river could rise to 1997’s record level of nearly 40 feet.
- March 20 (two years ago today): Volunteers begin filling an expected 2 million sandbags for an anticipated crest between March 28 and April 4. Construction begins on emergency dikes.
- March 22: The flood forecast is revised upward to a possible 41-foot crest – and now it’s expected to happen sooner than later. Two hundred National Guard soldiers are deployed. Schools cancel classes. Media outlets begin delivering news around the clock.
- March 23: 10,000 volunteers turn out to make sandbags and build dikes. Buses can barely keep up with the volunteer deployments.
- March 24: Evacuation plans are publicized, just in case.
- March 25: Some rural Cass and Clay County residents evacuate their homes.
- March 26: A new forecast: The Red in Fargo could hit 42 or 43 feet in two days' time. Fargo’s MeritCare Hospital evacuates patients.
- March 27: The Red at Fargo surpasses its 112-year-old record crest of 40.1 feet. Evacuees begin entering makeshift shelters.
- March 28: The metro area holds its breath as the Red crests, but the water is expected to stay high for a week, and 8 inches of new snow is predicted to hit.
- March 29: The permanent flood wall at Oak Grove Lutheran School is breached, swamping two of five buildings on campus.
- March 31: The river begins to drop as 10 inches of fresh snow falls.
The 2009 flood taught us some tough lessons. Today, we are more prepared than ever, but preparation is a relative term.
Not long ago, when the waters began to rise, people – like other animals – simply moved or got out of the way. This idea that mankind can control nature’s plan is relatively new. But we do it because it’s all we can do, really. It allows us to feel somewhat in control. We’ll know soon enough if Mother Nature credits us for the effort this time around.
Von Pinnon is editor of The Forum. Reach him at (701) 241-5579.