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Dave Olson, Published March 16 2013

Factors pile up for tricky flood season

FARGO – St. Patrick’s Day 2012 saw the high temperature in Fargo-Moorhead reach 76 degrees.

Yes, 76 degrees.

And daily highs stayed in the 70s another two days.

With an average daily high temperature of 41.6 degrees, March 2012 was the warmest March on record.

The month was also part and parcel of a winter that saw very little snow, which was followed by an almost nonexistent flood season.

March 2013, on the other hand, is an entirely different story.

The high temperature today is expected to be around 22 degrees, with a breeze that could send wind-chill values to minus 17.

Also, a winter storm system is on the way that could deposit two to four inches of snow or more overnight, adding to an already impressive snow pack moisture level that averages 3 inches basin-wide and is 4 to 5 inches in some southern stretches of the Red River Valley, according to the National Weather Service.

Strong winds Monday could create blizzard conditions, according to the Weather Service.

With forecasts calling for relatively cold temperatures through the end of March, this year’s snowmelt is expected no sooner than the early or middle part of April.

That would do two things: increase the risk for a rapid thaw and boost chances the thaw will coincide with a heavy rain event, either of which would intensify flooding issues.

Just how bad does it look?

The region will know more on Thursday, when the National Weather Service releases its latest flood outlook.

The last flood outlook issued March 7 carried an 88 percent chance that the Red River will cross the 30-foot mark into major flood stage territory.

In any event, it appears that with all of the factors now in the mix, spring 2013 could throw the region a very tricky spitball.

“It’s something we’ll just have to deal with when it comes,” said Dave Kellenbenz, meteorologist with the Weather Service in Grand Forks.

Kellenbenz said March 2013 is very different than March 2012.

“Last year, golf courses were open at this time,” Kellenbenz said, adding that one good thing is that the region had a fairly dry fall, so the ground is capable of absorbing moisture.

But, he added, that will only be a positive factor if the thaw is gradual and allows time for the frost to depart and make room for melt water and/or rain.

“That’s going to be the big thing,” he said, “how fast we melt, and storms that will come at the melt.”

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