The flood risk for all forecast points in the Red River Valley has been reduced due to mild conditions and below-average snowfall in January and February. And while the National Weather Service initially predicted late winter would be cooler and wetter than normal, it no longer indicated that will necessarily be the case.
But a relatively dry winter hasn't yet outpaced the record-breaking wet fall, and though the flood risk has been reduced, the Grand Forks area is still expected to see moderate to major flooding that will likely surpass 2019 levels. The 2020 flood is still expected to be a top 10 or possibly top 5 flood event, said Gregory Gust, a warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
As of Thursday, Feb. 27, there is a 50% chance flood levels will surpass 48.2 feet. Water levels in 2019 crested at 46.99 feet, and major flooding is considered to begin at 46 feet. The record set during the 1997 flood was 57.37 feet. The Feb. 27 outlook shows a 5% chance 2020 flood levels will surpass 53.3 feet.
With very wet soils, high base streamflows and at or above-normal snowpack, the potential for runoff remains high, and March is expected to bring a high risk factor, as always. Gust said the National Weather Service is still looking ahead to springtime, when flood levels could possibly be exacerbated by a potentially delayed thaw cycle.
There is expected to be light precipitation throughout the next week, and near-normal temperatures and precipitation are expected to last through the first part of March. Beyond that, Gust said there are no clear climate signals indicating what to expect.
"Going into March, it's relatively quiet," Gust said. "So will this be a lamb-to-lion type of March? Well, stay tuned."
Flood projections in the Fargo area are still expected to reach mid to high-major levels, with floodwalls and some bridge closures likely.
Oslo is expected to see major flooding with lots of breakouts and town access closed. The Feb. 27 prediction shows a 95% chance flood levels will surpass 37.1 feet, and a 5% chance they will surpass 38 feet. The record was set in 2009 at 38.37 feet.
Grafton, which has a new city bypass in operation, can expect to see minor to moderate flooding with some rural breakouts. There is a 50% chance flood levels will surpass 10.9 feet, and a 25% chance they will surpass 12.1 feet. Moderate flooding is considered to begin at 12 feet.
Pembina can expect major flooding, with dike patrols and south airport road closures. There is a 50% chance flooding will exceed 52.7 feet, which was the crest of the 2009 flood.
Devils Lake is expected to rise 2 to 3 feet to meet levels last seen in 2015 and 2016. The expected water levels have been reduced slightly since the last outlook and now sits at about 1,450.9 to 1,451.8. The current level is 1,448.9.
The spring flood outlook will be updated a final time on Thursday, March 12.
"At this point, we have a lot less winter to go through, and a lot of early spring yet to play out," Gust said.