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Dave Roepke, Published April 14 2011

Roepke: Best of the crest guesses

Fargo - Most of Paul Miller’s co-workers, not to mention a good share of The Forum’s readers and eventually the National Weather Service, expected worse from the Red River this spring.

Miller didn’t believe it.

“I was like, ‘Yeah, I don’t think so,’ ” said the budding Nostradamus.

Score one for the naysayers. Helped by an ideal melt and a dry spring, the crest height and day picked by the 24-year-old Concordia College graduate bested a field of 344 in The Forum’s Guess the Crest contest.

Along with 17 other guessers, Miller nailed the precise day of the crest in Fargo: April 9. Among those who picked the right day, his prediction of 38.79 feet was far and away the closest – four-hundredths of an inch off of the 38.75 foot crest, a distance that’s roughly equal to the thickness of a credit card.

It would be an awesome story if Miller had used an elaborate system to come up with his prognostication – say, a series of trips to obscure creeks, ditches and drains on the south end of the valley, or maybe even a squadron of hydrologists armed with formulas and formidable historical data.

How else could someone so accurately paddle against the current of consensus? He must have had a method.

“Basically, I was pulling it out of thin air,” he said.

Oh. Everybody thinks they’re a river whisperer except for Mr. Bullseye.

Miller said this week he simply figured it wouldn’t be all that bad. No specific reason, just a hunch. If you look back at the numbers, it was an even-keeled take.

Though the NWS later upped the 50-50 mark on its probability-based crestimate to 2009 levels, entries were due in early March, when the most recent flood outlook from the weather service put the chance of the Red topping 38.8 feet at 50 percent. So Miller’s prediction was in line with those of the actual experts.

It didn’t feel that way to Miller, though, and fellow guessers who submitted prospective crest levels to The Forum back up his read of the prevailing mood. A whopping 87 percent of entrants shot high, and the average prediction of 40.53 feet was too tall by inches short of 2 feet.

Miller said his was also one of the lowest estimates in an internal office pool at the bank where he works as a credit analyst.

“It definitely was creating some buzz at work,” he said.

Despite his prophetic optimism, Miller said he’s not ready to go pro and analyze crests instead of credit.

But, he is open to offers.

“If the compensation is right, I could do just about anything. But I’ll leave that to (Fargo Mayor Dennis) Walaker for now,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535