UPDATED: Forecaster says major Red River flood likely in Fargo-MoorheadThe chance of another record-breaking flood in Fargo deepened today when the National Weather Service announced the latest spring flood outlook.
By: Heidi Shaffer, INFORUM
The chance of another record-breaking flood in Fargo deepened today when the National Weather Service announced the latest spring flood outlook.
The Red River at Fargo has a 20 to 25 percent chance that flood levels will reach or exceed the record crest set in 2009 and a 50 percent chance of beating last year’s crest, which was the sixth-highest on record.
The Red has a 20 percent chance of reaching 41.2 feet and a 10 percent chance of reaching 42 feet in Fargo, the weather service said. The river crested at 40.84 feet in 2009.
There’s a 50 percent chance the river will reach 37.4 feet, or nearly half a foot higher than last year’s crest of 36.95 feet. Major flood stage in Fargo is 30 feet, and the weather service predicts a 93 percent chance the Red will reach that level.
A high soil moisture content and excessive snowfall and precipitation in the fall and winter are signaling to the probability of significant flooding, said Greg Gust, weather service warning coordination meteorologist.
The last part of the prediction equation – spring melt and precipitation – will play out in the coming months, but it’s not looking promising, Gust said.
Gust compared this year’s prediction to a three-legged stool. With the first two legs – precipitation and soil moisture content – kicked out, the factor of the spring thaw is looking awfully wobbly, he said.
“I don’t feel good about it all,” Gust said. “I wouldn’t want to sit on that stool.”
The conditions are shaping up for a spring flood sooner than in year’s past, Gust said.
Meteorologists were seeing relationships last year in March. This year it’s coming in January, he said.
“The impact is really quite apparent and now it’s what is going to be the timing of it that starts kicking in,” he said.
Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said the announcement is what he was expecting.
“We will continue to prepare for the worst-case scenario,” Walaker said. “It’s just a little bit too early to panic as far as I’m concerned, but it is time for prudent planning.”
Both Fargo and Cass County are expected to issue emergency declarations today to officially begin flood preparations for the spring.
There are a number of factors from now until spring melt that could change the forecast, said Brad Bramer, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Grand Forks.
The Red River Basin is poised to receive twice its normal snowfall through the end of the winter. To compound the problem, most of the same area received 10 to 12 inches above normal rainfall during the summer and fall, Gust said.
“When the cold weather came, it froze a lot of that soil moisture in place,” Bramer said.
Future forecasts will depend on how much precipitation falls between now and spring melt and how quickly that melt comes, Bramer said.
Walaker said spring rainfall played a significant role in 2009 and 2010.
“The rain is what is really a factor that can change the runoff rate, and that’s what really is the scary part of everything,” Walaker said.
The past two years, spring melt came in March, which is earlier than normal, Bramer said.
Based on climatic outlooks, this spring is likely to be cooler and a later spring melt could come later, Bramer said.
If the melt comes in April, warmer temperatures can lead to a rapid runoff, which happened in 1997, Walaker said.
“Are we going to have that again? Well, we have to prepare for that,” he said.
The next updated flood forecast is set to be released Feb. 3.