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Published April 18 2013

Forum editorial: Prepare for ‘flood of record’

Here’s what we know about decades of flood forecasting in the Red River Valley: You never know.

Wednesday’s report from the National Weather Service was startling, not only in its potential for a “flood of record,” but also because last year at this time the worry was the possibility of an expanding drought. It was just a few months ago that a relatively mild (for the northern Plains) winter, followed by an early, warm and dry spring clouded memories of three previous record or near-record floods. Even the overwhelming sentiment to speed permanent flood control measures had waned somewhat.

Short term memory is not the way to consider flood potential in the valley. As today’s conditions show, one dry year does not a trend make. A scientific argument can be made that last year’s dry weather was an anomaly in a continuing period. The graphic on the front page of Wednesday’s Forum is revealing: Six of the Red River’s top 10 floods occurred in the past 15 years, and three of them were 2009 (the record crest), 2010 and 2011.

See a trend there?

There’s a lot of water locked up in the watershed’s snowpack. Some of it has begun to melt and move (roadside ditches are beginning to fill), but the big thaw won’t crank up until next week, when stubbornly cold temperatures are expected to rise to near 50 degrees. A strong spring sun will make short work of the snow, and runoff will surge across the land, into ditches and drains and into the Red and Sheyenne rivers and their many tributaries.

We’re in for it – by any measure, a big flood is coming. Fargo, Moorhead, West Fargo and other river communities are as prepared as they can be. But this atypical spring underscores the common factor in valley flooding: You never know.

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Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.