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John Wheeler, WDAY, Published April 20 2013

Weather Talk: ‘Period of record’ isn’t long for spring thaw river crests

The Red River has yet to crest this spring. In fact, it has hardly risen (although it won’t be long now). This breaks the official record for the latest snowmelt river flood crest set on April 19, 1979.

One word used to describe this spring is “unprecedented.” But is it really? A record is a reference to a series of recordings and is not meant to cover anything other than the period in which the recordings have been made.

Though not official, there does exist plenty of history of other years with very late river crests. These histories are in the form of journals and letters from the past. From these, we know the Red crested on April 29 in 1881, and it also crested very late in 1873.

Because spring thaw river crests can only happen once a year, the “period of record” for these events is not really very long. Anything that has not happened for more than 130 years is certainly rare, but not necessarily unprecedented.


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