FARGO — For every river forecast point on the Red River between North Dakota and Minnesota, the highest flood record is either from 1997 or 2009. The fact that neither of these floods holds all the records tells us we have yet to see the worst flood this river can do. The winter of 1996-1997 was epic. There were record amounts of snow at many locations and then an ice storm turned blizzard.
But in the end, the Fargo-Moorhead area got relatively lucky, as freezing weather slowed the runoff. The result was a prolonged but lower crest. Grand Forks and East Grand Forks were not so lucky, as warmer temperatures coincided with the crest. The levees just couldn’t be built high enough.
In 2009, the winter snowpack was melting rapidly when temperatures suddenly rose into the 50s in mid-March. Then, two inches of rain fell in three days. But rain turned back to snow as, again, the weather turned cold. Eighteen inches of snow fell from three storms, but that snow melted after the crest and had no impact. 2009 could have turned out much worse for Fargo-Moorhead, had the cold weather not arrived when it did.
There is knowledge of an even worse flood on the Red. It happened near Fort Garry in Winnipeg in 1826.
Peak flow has been estimated at 40 percent greater than the 1997 flood. Such a flood would send the river several feet higher than any recent flood, high enough to inundate any city or town along the Red River today.