Fargo-Moorhead is abnormally dry. Can we expect a spring flood … or a spring drought?

Spring flooding is highly likely -- but a spring drought also is possible, and will depend on future conditions, including the timing of the thaw and additional precipitation.

A West Fargo resident digs out fresh snow on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023.
David Samson/The Forum

FARGO — The metro area finds itself paradoxically in the midst of abnormally dry conditions and with about a 50% chance of fighting a major spring flood.

The abnormally dry designation in the latest Drought Monitor map, issued Thursday, March 16, reflects improved conditions resulting from the average to above-average snowfall in the area.

Conditions were very dry in the fall, but snowfall received as of Friday, March 17, contains between three and four inches of water.

That compares to an average of less than 1½ inches of water stored in the snowpack, said Adnan Akyüz, North Dakota’s state climatologist.

“The progressively improving conditions, especially in the Red River Valley, prompted us to apply improvements,” he said.


Since the Red River Valley now confronts more than a 50% chance of major spring flooding, many people would be confused if the area were simultaneously categorized as in the grip of drought, he said.

So far, Fargo has received 51 inches of snow. “We have still a lot of winter left,” Akyüz said.

Last year, by comparison, Fargo had 56 inches of snow the entire winter, and the Red River almost reached major flood stage, which begins at 30 feet.

drought monitor 3 16 23 nd.JPG
Springer, Patrick

In terms of flood potential, “This year I would say we are in better shape than last year,” because of dry soils, Akyüz said.

As a result, the soil has the capacity to hold some water when the thaw arrives — although much of the water likely will run off into rivers and streams, he said.

So far, a spring drought does not appear like a “strong possibility,” Akyüz said. As of Friday, the snow depth in Fargo was 20 inches and the snowpack holds three or four inches of water.

“That snowpack is going to act like a reservoir,” he said.

John Wheeler, WDAY StormTracker chief meteorologist, said a spring drought is possible — but will depend on future weather conditions, including the timing of the thaw and precipitation.


In looking ahead at the possibility of a spring drought, Wheeler said it’s useful to look at the weather year, which runs from Oct. 1, when evaporation reduces significantly, to Sept. 30, a period that captures the heavy precipitation months of May through September.

As of Friday, Fargo has received 4.56 inches of precipitation in the current water year, and Grand Forks has received 4.23 inches.

“Those numbers are both slightly below average,” Wheeler said, the result of the dry fall. “It’s not that we’re bound for drought this year. It's that it’s probably going to depend on the weather once spring starts,” with all signs pointing to a late spring.

“Basically everything depends on the melt and everything depends on the weather at the time,” he said.

drought monitor 3 16 23 mn.JPG
Springer, Patrick

According to the latest spring flood outlook from the National Weather Service, issued March 9, the Red River at Fargo has a 50% chance of reaching 31.8 feet and a 75% chance of 28.9 feet, with a 5% chance of a 31.8-foot crest.

The record 2009 flood crest was 40.84 feet. Last year the flood crest was 26.49 feet on May 14.

Patrick Springer first joined The Forum in 1985. He covers a wide range of subjects including health care, energy and population trends. Email address:
Phone: 701-367-5294
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