On this Saturday 10 years ago, Forum readers learned the National Weather Service's flood forecast for the Red River was worthy of their attention. It wasn't hair-on-fire time yet and, in fact, the story by reporter Helmut Schmidt seems understated now.
"'It is time to be concerned,'" reads the large headline stripped across the top of the front page.
Those were the words used by then-Fargo Mayor Denny Walaker after the weather service boosted the Red's flood crest prediction by 3 feet.
"It's a pretty serious outlook," said Tim Bertschi, then a flood engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"We've got issues," Walaker said.
Whether Denny knew exactly how big those issues were, we don't know. But what followed over the next two weeks was something the region hadn't seen before, at least not in recorded history. The Red eventually crested at 40.8 feet at 12:15 a.m. on March 28, its water held back from inundating large swaths of Fargo-Moorhead mostly by sandbags, sweat and the grace of God.
We won, but just barely.
We bring up these recollections today because the flood forecast released Friday, March 15, by the weather service looks very similar to the one chronicled by The Forum in 2009.
Ten years ago, the forecast called for a 10 percent chance of the river reaching 40 feet. Friday, the forecast called for a 10 percent chance of reaching 40.3 feet.
Ten years ago, the forecast called for a 50 percent chance of the river reaching 38 feet. Friday, the forecast called for a 50 percent chance of the river reaching 37.9 feet.
It's kind of deja vu all over again.
Except that it's not.
Local officials Friday seemed concerned, but not panicked, about the current flood outlook. Anytime the Red is expected to rise higher than 35 feet, and quite likely more like 36 or 37 feet, we're entering the danger zone. An ill-timed inch-and-a-half of rain or foot of snow could push those numbers closer to 39 or 40 feet and then, as Walaker said, we've got issues.
The seemingly calm vibe from City Hall is a credit to Walaker, who died in 2014, current mayor Tim Mahoney, retired city engineer Mark Bittner, retired city administrator Pat Zavoral and many others in the city and at the state capitol who saw to it that Fargo's flood defenses were strengthened mightily after 2009, even in the absence of the much-needed diversion. Same thing in Moorhead. The city decided after '09, led by former city manager Mike Redlinger, that it was going to emphasize flood protection.
We are better prepared today, by far, than we were 10 years ago for a major flood. Live and learn, as they say.
One example, based in fact: In 2009, Fargo needed about 7 million sandbags to protect against a 40-foot flood while today the city would need about 1 million. Shoot, we could churn out a million sandbags in our sleep.
How far Fargo has come. Looking through archives, the city scrambled to protect itself against the near-record flood of 1969.
That year's crest was 37.34 feet, then the second-highest on record behind 39.10 in 1897.
Fifty years later, Fargo could pretty much shrug off a 37-foot crest.
Not that we want to get cocky. That's not the intent here. Anytime the Red River climbs above 35 feet there is concern and precautions will rightly be taken. We shouldn't get comfortable, because we can't afford to. A rapid melt or hellacious rain could be enough to tilt the situation from secure to dangerous.
And, of course, the belief that Fargo-Moorhead is flood-proof is dangerous because the dopes from the southern Red River Valley will use it as ammo that the diversion is unneeded. Nothing could be more wrong. We need the diversion, and it will be built.
Still, it's curious to see how the news today echoes the news from 10 years ago and how differently we're reacting to it. In addition to the flood forecast, the Bison men's basketball team was awaiting word on who they'd play in the NCAA tournament in 2009. Again, sound familiar?
Walaker even used the Bison's berth to reference the bad news about the flood forecast.
"This is not the March Madness I anticipated," the mayor said.
In '09, the spring melt truly did morph into madness. Let's hope that's not the case this year.