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Published April 01, 2009, 12:00 AM

Storm helps area to ‘nuke’ March record

Slick, snow-covered roads slowed traffic and shut down schools Tuesday as a snowstorm dumped 10 inches on the area, making this year the fourth-snowiest winter on record.

By: Kelly Smith, INFORUM

Slick, snow-covered roads slowed traffic and shut down schools Tuesday as a snowstorm dumped 10 inches on the area, making this year the fourth-snowiest winter on record.

But for the flood-conscious Red River Valley, what matters most is the moisture March brought.

About a week ago, Fargo broke its March moisture record, which includes rain and water content of snow. Now at 4.62 inches after Tuesday’s snow, precipitation in March smashed the previous record of 2.83 inches in March 1882.

“It’s not like we just beat the record by a little bit. We nuked it,” said WDAY-TV meteorologist John Wheeler said. “That has a lot to do with why the Red River crested at over 40 feet.”

The area also surpassed previous March snowfall records. Fargo received 29.5 inches this month to break the record of 26.2 inches set in March 1997.

And this year is now in the top four snowiest winters on record. With the latest storm, we’ve had 79.4 inches of snow this winter, putting us behind the 82.2 inches in 1936-37 and 89.1 inches in 1993-94.

The winter of 1997 still holds the No. 1 place with 117 inches of snowfall.

“This is really a remarkably, anomalously wet month for this time of year,” Wheeler said. “I would write it off as sort of like a fluke.”

He doesn’t think the precipitation record will be broken.

“Well, I shouldn’t say that. One more (storm) like this, and we’d be close.”

Luckily, the 10 inches of snow that fell by Tuesday evening shouldn’t affect another peak in river levels until mid-April because the forecast – with temps below or at freezing – means minimal melting anytime soon.

“That’s kind of good news because that will allow the rivers a chance to drop on down before we add more moisture to them,” Wheeler said. “There’s really no point in talking about what that crest might be; it won’t start melting for several days.”

While it’s uncertain how the snow will affect river levels, it did affect daily routines Tuesday.

Officials reported dangerous white-out conditions as snow fell on top of already icy roads.

“It’s pretty treacherous,” said Northern Cass (N.D.) Superintendent Allen Burgad, who canceled a ninth school day on Tuesday. “It’s getting really frustrating. I’ve never experienced that many (snow) days.”

Interstate 29 was closed from Grand Forks to South Dakota for most of the day. Kevin Gorder of the North Dakota Department of Transportation said roads south of Fargo were so bad early Tuesday that some plows stayed in the garage.

Officials echoed warnings throughout Tuesday, advising people to stay home.

“During a snowstorm like this with our limited access … we’ll never have good road conditions,” said Fargo Public Works Director Al Weigel. “There should only be essential travel on the roads.”

It seemed people listened.

Fargo police Sgt. Ross Renner reported that streets were relatively quiet, with eight accidents from midnight through midafternoon.

That allowed the city’s 19 plows to work without too much traffic.

“We’ve never pulled our plows off, and we don’t intend to,” Weigel said. “We’re going to stay out 24/7 now.”

Military crews took over the flood fight so city operators could focus on clearing roads, which should be clear the rest of the week, as the forecast calls for no more snow.

Forum reporters Dave Olson and Dave Roepke contributed to this report

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kelly Smith at (701) 241-5515