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John Wheeler, WDAY, Published April 28 2013

Weather Talk: Crest will still be remarkable through context of history

Even though this year’s river crest is coming in lower than initially feared, it will still be a remarkable crest when compared to the history of the region. River crests above 30 feet used to be rare, but now they are common.

Up until the 1950s and 1960s, avenues with houses ran almost down to the river itself in near-downtown sections of Fargo and Moorhead. Several things have changed to cause the higher floods. First and foremost is the weather. Precipitation is up 20 percent. It really does rain and snow more than it used to.

Land-use changes certainly direct water into the river more quickly – that is undisputed. But flood mitigation also acts to increase the river crests. When the Red River spills its banks, it turns into a 10- to 20-mile-wide shallow sea in rural areas, and then we squeeze that entire river between Fargo and Moorhead. Due to the intense pressure, the floodwater does not wait patiently to pass through. The backup to the south causes the water to rise further, creating a higher crest.

It makes one wonder how high the great 1897 flood would have been had it been forced to pass through today’s levees.


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