Winter storm next week could dump heavy precipitation, with increased chances for higher Red River flood

Forecasters are watching a developing system that could deliver heavy precipitation to the Red River Valley, where snow continues to pile up and the thaw has yet to begin in earnest.

Snow pack is seen looking east along U.S. Highway 81 at the construction site of one of the flood control structures that will be part of the Red River diversion project, south of Fargo, just south of 124th Avenue.
David Samson/The Forum

FARGO — The potential for a winter storm that could hit the Fargo-Moorhead area next week means that the probability of the Red River reaching higher levels in the spring flood likely would increase.

That’s the message from the National Weather Service, which issued its latest update on the looming spring flood on Thursday, March 30.

Forecasters are watching a developing system that could deliver heavy precipitation to the Red River Valley, where snow continues to pile up and the thaw has yet to begin in earnest as cold temperatures linger.

“It has that potential,” said Mindy Beerends, the meteorologist in charge at the weather service in Grand Forks. “We are anticipating the potential for heavy precipitation with that storm system,” which could hit Fargo-Moorhead on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The range of probabilities for various flood stages the weather service issued on March 23 has not changed, but the possibility of seeing higher levels will increase if heavy precipitation falls, Beerends said.


At the low probability end of the range — which also corresponds to the highest flood levels — the Red River at Fargo has a 5% chance of cresting at 38.6 feet, and a 10% chance of 37.8 feet and a 50% chance of 34.2 feet.


The latest probabilistic spring outlook, still valid, indicates that a major flood, which begins at 30 feet in Fargo, is highly likely, with a 90% chance of reaching 30.7 feet.

Minor flooding begins at 18 feet. The record 2009 flood crested at 40.84 feet.

Fargo is much better protected than it was during the 2009 flood, which required millions of sandbags. Fargo and Moorhead are well along in providing permanent protections that would allow a 37-foot river without the need for any temporary protections.

Most areas of the cities have floodwalls or levees with protection well above that 37-foot level, which should be the highest river levels during extreme floods once the metro area's flood protection project starts operating in 2027.

Also, many properties in low-lying, flood-prone areas have been removed and no longer have to be protected.

Beerends said Thursday that as a result of the increased chances for higher flood levels, property owners and officials should plan accordingly as they prepare for the spring flood.

The risk for significant spring flooding — moderate or higher — remains across the area, with chances remaining generally above long-term historical averages for most of the Red River Basin, according to the weather service.


The temperature outlook over the next 14 days remains well below normal with only a few hours above freezing expected at most on any afternoon, with Sunday being the warmest day of the period.

Following the possible winter storm next week, temperatures will fall, further delaying the thaw.

Based on these below-normal temperatures, any snow melt and resulting river rises aren’t expected to begin until April 10 or later.

“We’re a little in unknown territory now,” Beerends said, noting that it's unusual to be almost April with very little melting of the snow pack.

To be prepared, people should watch for updates of the developing conditions that will affect the spring flood that the weather service will issue every Thursday. Once water begins to move in rivers and streams, the weather service will issue seven-day flood predictions.

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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