FARGO — The Red River Valley faces the chance of fighting a top-five flood this spring following record or near-record fall rains throughout most of the valley and a snowy winter, a forecaster said Friday, Jan. 24.

"This year very well could be a top-five flood, though very much is yet to be determined," Greg Gust, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said in a briefing about the spring flood outlook.

"Precipitation is tracking high and is expected to continue that track," he said. "Soils are very, very wet."

From Sept. 1 through Jan. 20, Fargo has received 11.52 inches of total precipitation, the second highest on record, Gust said, exceeded only by the 12.97 inches that fell during the comparable period in 2008-09, which resulted in the record 40.84-foot Red River flood in Fargo.

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Precipitation for much of the Red River Basin is running 4 to 8 inches above normal for the period, Gust said. The area around Fargo has snow-water equivalent of 3 inches to 3.5 inches, but is within a band where the moisture content in the snow ranges from 3 to 5 inches, Gust said.

Those wet conditions also produced the second-highest fall crest on the Red River at Fargo-Moorhead, 23.4 feet on Oct. 16. That was about two feet lower, with a volume flow about 17% below the fall season crest of 25.49 feet set on Oct. 17, 2008.

Weather over the next week looks dry, but the risk for above-normal precipitation increases in early February, according to the weather service's 8-to-14-day outlook.

The outlook for the month of February suggests below normal temperatures, with no clear signal for above normal, below normal or normal precipitation. "So that's a little bit of good news," Gust said.

The April outlook predicts below-normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation, which could increase the chance of a late, rapid melt that could coincide with rains, he said.


FARGO — Soils waterlogged from record fall rains and a steadily accumulating winter snowpack mean the prospects for a significant spring flood "loom high" in the Red River Valley, forecasters warned Thursday, Jan. 23.

The National Weather Service, in its first spring flood outlook, said Fargo faces a 50% chance of a 35.9-foot flood and a 5% probability of a 40.6-foot flood, which would be slightly below the record. Fargo faces a 95% chance of a flood crest of at least 27.6 feet.

"It's early, but ... this outlook starts with a threat for significant snowmelt flooding that could beat or exceed the level of flooding seen in 2019," the weather service outlook said.

"The risk for significant snowmelt flooding is quite substantial, running above long-term historical averages across the Red River and Devils Lake Basins," the weather service said.

Source: National Weather Service
Source: National Weather Service

After the wettest fall on record, including fall floods, excess water remains in soggy soils, with rivers and streams running at seasonally high levels. The Red River in Fargo on Thursday was 15.4 feet. Minor flooding starts at 18 feet, moderate flooding at 25 feet and major flooding at 30 feet.

The water content in the snow covering the region is high, running at 150% to 300% of normal and ranges from the equivalent of 2.5 inches to 5 inches.

Total precipitation from Sept. 1 through Jan. 21 set a record high, ranging from 4 to 8 inches above the long-term normal for most of the Red River Basin.

Frost is less deep than normal, especially in the far southern Red River Valley, so some absorption is possible — if the thaw cooperates.

The frost depth in the southern Red River Valley ranges from 6 to 12 inches, a shallow depth resulting from deep snow cover. Frost at most locations north of Fargo is 14 to 30 inches deep.

"Climate outlooks currently indicate an increased risk for cooler and wetter late winter-early spring period, which increases our risk for rapid and/or rainfall enhanced runoff," the weather service flood outlook said.

Fargo has received 41 inches of snow so far this winter, with an average snow depth of 19 inches, according to John Wheeler, WDAY chief meteorologist. Total precipitation in Fargo from Sept. 1 through Nov. 30 was 9.27 inches, 4.05 inches more than average.

"There is already enough water in the snow for a flood concern this spring, but the weather for the remainder of the winter and early spring will mean everything as far as determining how serious the flood turns out to be," Wheeler recently advised.

The record flood crest in Fargo was 40.84 feet in 2009. Last year's spring flood, the 10th highest on record, was 35.03 feet.

If you go

What: A meeting by the North Dakota State Water Commission and Department of Emergency Services to inform the public about the potential for spring flooding and steps people can take to prepare themselves and protect their property

When: 5:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 27

Where: Fargo Cass Public Health, 1240 25th St. S., in the Oak Room

Details: The meeting will include presentations from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Weather Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Officials will brief attendees on dam operations, current flood forecasts, flood preparedness and mitigation tips and flood insurance.