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Published June 28, 2009, 12:00 AM

Summer flooding more likely

The Red River’s sudden and significant rise last week following heavy rains may have caught some off guard, but the National Weather Service had predicted a greater chance of flooding this summer.

By: Mike Nowatzki, INFORUM

The Red River’s sudden and significant rise last week following heavy rains may have caught some off guard, but the National Weather Service had predicted a greater chance of flooding this summer.

Now, as the river in Fargo-Moorhead slowly returns to its banks, leaving behind a muddy mess in parks and golf courses, the question arises: When will it flood again?

Chances are greater than normal it will happen through the end of August, according to the service’s probabilistic forecast.

The forecast, which covers the period from June 1 to Aug. 30, depicts a departure from normal conditions, based on data from past years and current conditions as of May 25.

“There’s a 20 to 25 percent greater chance this year of flooding almost at any level actually, just because of the wet conditions in the basin,” said Mike DeWeese, forecaster at the weather service’s North Central River Forecast Center in Chanhassen, Minn.

The Red River at Fargo-Moorhead is forecast to fall below flood stage of 18 feet on Thursday after cresting last Tuesday at 27.59 feet – less than 2½ feet below major flood stage. The forecast below flood stage was pushed back to account for storms that hit the region Friday night.

The northern end of the Red River Valley, near the Canadian border from the Turtle Mountains in North Dakota to Minnesota’s Lake of the Woods area, is in the 99th percentile of soil moisture when compared to the period from 1931 to 2000, NWS hydrologist Mike Lukes said.

“So, it’s really wet,” he said.

The southern valley, including Fargo-Moorhead, has soil moisture percentiles in the 70s to 80s, or between 20 to 60 millimeters above normal.

With so much moisture in the soil and strong groundwater flows into river systems, heavy rains could quickly bump levels back up again, Lukes said.

“There’s a lot of potential out there,” he said. “It takes a pretty good dry spell, a couple months, to really draw down the river.”

On a positive note, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center issued an El Nino Watch earlier this month.

The center said conditions are favorable for a transition to El Nino conditions this summer, indicating the likelihood of El Nino this coming winter.

That typically means warmer weather with less precipitation, Lukes said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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