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Patrick Springer, Published April 28 2014

Persistent rains bring forecast for moderate F-M flood of 28.5 feet by Saturday

FARGO – Goodbye dry winter and early spring, hello surging rivers and soggy fields.

The advent of rainy weather, which took hold Thursday in the Red River Valley, is causing rivers and streams to rise.

A moderate flood is predicted on the Red River in Fargo-Moorhead, with a crest of 28.5 feet well above the moderate flood stage of 25 feet, according to the National Weather Service.

That will mean minor disruptions in certain spots along the river – a ritual that is all too familiar in recent wet springs.

If the forecast hold, the toll bridge connecting 12th Avenue North in Fargo with 15th Avenue North in Moorhead will close when the river hits 28 feet. The forecast issued at 3 p.m. on Monday predicts the Red will be higher than 28 feet from midnight Saturday to early Sunday morning.

In Fargo, Elm Street between 14th and 15th Avenue North closes when the river reaches 18 feet, the start of minor flooding and a mark the river had nearly reached by 6 p.m. Monday.

At 22 or 23 feet, the North Broadway Bridge closes. At 25 feet, Fargo city park and recreation areas along the river begin to flood.

The wet weather, expected to persist through the week, will delay farm field work, already late because of cool soils.

Soils have thawed to a depth of about 20 inches, but beyond that depth, to almost 40 inches, is a band of frozen soil, Adnan Akyuz, North Dakota state climatologist, said Monday.

It could take another 10 or 15 days for the deeper soils to thaw, he added. Once thawed, the ground will be able to absorb more moisture.

Because of the cold ground and inability of the soil to fully absorb rainfall, Greg Gust, a National Weather Service meteorologist, estimated that “conservatively” half of the rain is running off to rivers and streams.

Soils now are saturated, especially in central Richland County, feeding the North Dakota Wild Rice and Bois de Sioux rivers, tributaries of the Red River.

“That’s where we’re getting more of the water that is pushing into the system,” Gust said, estimating that area of the southern Red River Valley recently has seen between 2 inches and 3½inches.

“If this type of rain was occurring in June or July none of this would be running off,” Gust said, noting the cold sub-soils.

“I know there’s a lot of people who want to get in the fields,” he said. “We are starting to fall a bit behind.”

The average last frost for the area is the second or third week in May, Gust said, so it’s not unusual for farmers to be waiting this time of year to get into the fields.

Besides Fargo-Moorhead, flood warnings have been posted for the Buffalo River in Hawley and Sabin in Clay County and the Wild Rice River in Abercrombie in Richland County.

In Fargo, 0.85 inches of rain had fallen by early evening, bringing the monthly total so far to 3.37 inches, well more than twice the 1.38 inch average for April, with two days remaining.

As of Monday, this spring has ranked the 49th wettest and 45th coolest in Fargo since recordkeeping began in 1881, Akyuz said.

“It is really in the middle of the pack,” he said, “but it’s on the colder and wetter side of the spectrum.”

Because of saturated soils and rain-swollen rivers and streams, colder and wetter conditions likely will persist, Akyuz said.

The National Weather Service expects cooler temperatures through May, but the thermometer should return to normal in June or July, Gust said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522