FARGO — The gradual thaw has the Red River creeping up toward the 17-foot action stage, a foot below minor flood stage but the level where the effects of flooding start.
The Red River in Fargo as of 11 a.m. Thursday, March 19, was at 16.33 feet. The river could reach the 17-foot level next week. At that level, water reaches the edge of the recreation trail near El Zagal Golf Course in north Fargo.
“That’s a good thing,” said Greg Gust, a National Weather Service meteorologist, who gave a briefing Thursday on river and weather conditions for the coming spring flood. A slow, steady river rise helps move water downstream in advance of the flood.
At 18 feet, the beginning of minor flood stage, Elm Street between 14th Avenue North and 15th Avenue North closes and storm sewer pumping stations begin to operate.
The persistent dry weather and gentle spring thaw mean that flood probabilities in the most recent flood outlook issued last week, March 12, by the National Weather Service remain in effect.
“Those probabilities aren’t changing through this process,” said Greg Gust, a weather service meteorologist. “For now things are behaving well. This is a good, even thaw process.”
The range of probabilities in the last flood outlook gave a 10% chance of the Red River in Fargo reaching 38.2 feet, 25% chance of 36.1 feet, a 50% chance of 34.7 feet, a 75% chance of 33.3 feet, a 90% chance of 32.5 feet and a 95% chance of 32 feet.
Thus, a major flood, which begins at 30 feet, appears all but assured. The weather service’s spring flood outlook calls for major spring flooding throughout the Red River Valley — reaffirming a likelihood that has been apparent since late January because of a very wet fall and early winter.
Fargo’s record Red River flood, in 2009, was 40.84 feet. Last year’s spring flood crested at 35.03 feet, the 10th highest on record. Fargo officials scaled back sandbag production after last week's outlook and have been planning to defend against a potential 37-foot flood.
“Right now in the Red River Basin, we don’t have much in the way of major thawing going on,” Gust said.
Cold temperatures associated with a mild winter storm on Thursday have suspended the thaw, but the melt will resume in a few days and likely pick up, especially the week after next, as warmer temperatures arrive, he said.
Last week, Fargo received 0.23 inches of liquid from snow, while Grand Forks received 0.46 inches of moisture, levels that were within forecasts. No significant precipitation is expected over the next two weeks.
“Right now, all of this is going well,” Gust said.
With water beginning to move in the southern basin, a flood forecast for the Red River at Wahpeton-Breckenridge is possible soon, though “big water” is not yet flowing into the river. A flood forecast for Fargo-Moorhead would come later.