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Published January 24 2013

Outlook says chances of major flooding slim

FARGO – Rest easy, sandbaggers.

The Red River here has only a 6 percent chance of reaching major flood stage this spring, according to a flood outlook released Thursday by the National Weather Service.

There’s a 74 percent chance the river will reach its minor flood stage of 18 feet, at which point Elm Street North is closed, and a 12 percent chance it will hit moderate stage of 25 feet, which begins to flood park areas along the river.

Major flood stage is 30 feet. The river level was at about 13.9 feet Thursday.

Fargo has 750,000 filled sandbags left over from the 2011 flood fight if needed, city Enterprise Director Bruce Grubb said.

“It sure doesn’t look like we’re in much danger of having to use those this spring,” he said.

The weather service says most of the Red River basin has near-normal snowpack, except for slightly lower amounts north of Fargo to Grand Forks and slightly higher amounts from Oslo, Minn., to the U.S.-Canada border and westward to the Devils Lake basin.

The three-month outlook calls for below-normal temperatures and near-normal to slightly above-normal precipitation from February to April.

Weather service meteorologist Jim Kaiser said February is historically the driest month of the year and it would take a series of big storms to create the potential for a significant flood.

“There’s less than an inch of water in most of the snow around the area, and in our big flood years there was 5, 6, 7 inches of water in that snow,” he said.

The Red River’s chances of hitting minor flood stage are 21 percent in Grand Forks and 46 percent in Wahpeton. It has a less than 5 percent chance of reaching major flood stage in the two cities, as well as in Hickson, Drayton and Pembina, and Oslo and Halstad, Minn.

The river’s tributaries, including the Sheyenne and Wild Rice rivers, also are expected to behave, with a less than 5 percent chance of major flooding at all locations except in the far northeastern North Dakota city of Neche, where the Pembina River has a 9 percent chance.

Conditions are expected to return to drier and warmer than normal through mid- to late summer, the outlook states.

Severe drought continues to plague counties in southern and eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota, according to the weather service’s drought monitor. Part of northwestern Minnesota and most of southwestern Minnesota remain in extreme drought.

If wetter weather comes to fruition this spring, it may improve the drought situation but probably won’t end it, Kaiser said.

“There’s a pretty good signal that the drought would rebuild across the central plains and bleed north for the summer,” he said.

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said the flood outlook is good news right now. But he’s hoping for more precipitation to replenish soil moisture for farmers and to avoid having to pump higher volumes of water from the Sheyenne River, which is more expensive to treat than Red River water.

“It’s not time to push the panic button by any stretch,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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