Weather Talk: Even in winter, the Red River flows north

Walking the dog along the Red River bike path recently, I was struck by the stillness of the river's frozen surface. Once frozen, the visual motion of the river stops for the winter. The river's hard surface gives the appearance of a thing at rest. Of course, underneath the frozen river surface, the Red River continues to flow. Our winters are not cold enough to freeze the river solid, so it keeps flowing to the north.

This northward flow of the Red River is not as singular as many of us have led ourselves to believe. The Red is not the only other river in the United States to flow north. Others that do so include the Kennebec and Penobscot Rivers in Maine as well as the Willamette River in Oregon.

The reason most rivers flow south is because, sandwiched between the Rockies and the Appalachians, the slope of the entire Mississippi watershed is to the south. This is merely a feature of American geography and not a strange adjustment to any law of physics. Water flows downhill, whatever direction that happens to be.