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Erik Burgess, Published May 04 2013

How Walaker, NWS stack up in predicting recent floods

FARGO - During the flood of 2011, Mayor Dennis Walaker put it simply. When it comes to flooding, he said, “Predictions bother me.”

Still, when a spring flood is coming, Walaker gets out to visually gauge the valley himself. His subsequent takes on how high the Red River might get in the city where he’s fought floods for decades often challenge the official National Weather Service forecast.

Walaker, who was public works director in Fargo for much of his career before he won the mayor’s seat in 2006, says city officials rely more on the weather service than his own gut. But the mayor’s predictions have become a sort of folklore for many residents.

Here’s how Walaker flood expectations have stacked up against the weather service in recent floods:

2009

On March 26, 2009, the National Weather Service bumped the predicted crest from 41 feet to 43 feet. Walaker sounded off, questioning if the weather service was being overly pessimistic because an underestimation in Grand Forks in 1997 led to the city’s dikes failing.

“Covering your ass is not a figure that we want right now,” Walaker said at the time. The Red eventually crested at the record 40.84 feet two days later.

When forecasters announced there would be a second crest in 2009, they initially said it could be as high as 43 feet. Walaker bristled and said it would likely be 37 feet to 38 feet.

“We’ve been closer than they have. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. And I’ll accept that responsibility,” the mayor said at the time.

The second peak was 35.5 feet on April 15, 2009.

2010

On March 14, 2010, the weather service said the river would crest at 38 feet. Walaker said he believed it would be just less than 37 feet.

The weather service adjusts their forecast on March 20, 2010, to 37 feet. The Red crested at 36.99 feet on March 21, 2010.

2011

Early predictions by the weather service said the river had a 30 percent chance of breaking 41.3 feet. Walaker said he’d be “shocked” if it went over 41 feet, and says the flood will be similar to that in 2010.

Forecasters eventually adjusted the crest range two days before the actual peak to between 39 and 40 feet. The Red crested at 38.81 feet on April 9, 2011.

2013

An early forecast said the river had an 88 percent chance of topping 30 feet, and a 5 percent chance of exceeding 38 feet. After making a trip through the southern basin, Walaker said it’ll be 32 feet.

Late snowfall and a prolonged melt caused the crest range to be bumped up to between 38 and 42 feet. Forecasters said there was a 40 percent chance of a new record flood. Walaker said at that point that 37 feet is a “good number.”

The Red hit a preliminary crest of 33.32 feet on May 1, 2013.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518