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Stage Set for Possible Major Spring Floods on Red River, Devils Lake

February 23, 2010

Residents, businesses and community officials along the Red River in North Dakota and Minnesota are on the verge of having their patience and determination tested again. For the second year in a row, weather conditions are setting the stage for another round of major spring flooding throughout the area.

A historically high Devils Lake also poses significant flooding problems for northeastern North Dakota.

“Another early fall freeze and snow pack approaching record levels pose a possibility of very significant flooding this spring all along the Red River Valley,” said Lynn Maximuk, director of the National Weather Service’s central region. “We urge Red River Valley residents to begin preparing now for major flooding.”

Spring thaw in the Red River Valley often equates to spring floods because the flat terrain slows the drainage of runoff water. Records for stage levels and flow volume in several places along the Red River and its tributaries were set in 2009. Current conditions in the Red River Valley indicate those levels we could be approached again in 2010. Although conditions could change by the late March to early April thaw, major flooding is a good possibility.

One flood potential indicator is that above normal precipitation from last fall has extended through the current winter season. Through January, precipitation has been 150-300 percent above normal across the entire Red River Basin. Fargo set a record for precipitation in the December-January period with water equivalent of 3.42 inches. That snow and ice remains in the basin causing the snow water content to be very high for this time of year. 

Another factor exacerbating the flood threat is the frozen and saturated soil throughout eastern North Dakota and northwest. Frozen ground and/or saturated soil cause the majority of the snow melt to runoff, swelling streams and rivers and increasing the chance of flooding.  Other factors that will influence the severity of flooding include: the amount of additional snowfall; timing of the snow melt; the rate and speed of melting snow and any rain that falls during snow melt.

Current long-range National Weather Service forecasts indicate about a 96 percent chance of major flooding in the Fargo, N.D., area and about 73 percent chance of major flooding in the Grand Forks area. They also indicate low probabilities of river levels reaching those experienced during record floods of 1997 and 2009.

Earlier this month, National Weather Service forecasters said there is a 95 percent chance Devils Lake will reach the 2009 record level of 1,450.7 feet, a 60 percent chance of 1,451.5 feet, a 48 percent chance of 1,451.7 feet and a 35 percent chance of 1,452 feet. Devils Lake has risen more than 25 feet over the past 17 years, costing nearly $1 billion in infrastructure improvements including development of a new water supply system and the construction of roads acting as dikes.

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Media contacts:

Patrick Slattery

Related Web sites:

NOAA’s National Weather Service:
National Weather Service Grand Forks:

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  Page last modified: 11-Mar-2010 9:35 AM