FARGO — Favorable melting conditions have caused Fargo leaders to drop their flood protection levels by two feet and plan to build emergency levees capable of holding back a crest of 39 feet on the Red River.
The announcement on Friday, March 29, followed a flood outlook briefing by the National Weather Service that said the gradual melt that is helping to subdue flood levels along the river should continue.
"It's fantastic news," Mayor Tim Mahoney said. "It's a perfect melt. I don't know how that happened."
The city of Fargo had been planning to build emergency levees to fight a potential 41-foot crest. "We'll drop two feet," Mahoney said.
The weather service said conditions now suggest a maximum flood of about 38.9 feet, which was the 25-percent probability given in a flood forecast on March 15. Since then the area has received little or no precipitation and a gradual melt — but much of the snow pack has yet to melt, and there still is a risk of heavy precipitation.
Building to a protection level of 39 feet would accommodate heavy rains of 1 to 2 inches, Mahoney said.
Fargo officials expect volunteers will have filled 400,000 sandbags by the end of Friday. That number would allow the city to "fully execute its 39-foot protection plan," according to the city.
But sandbag volunteers shouldn't knock off early on Friday.
"It is important to note the need for a strong volunteer effort through 7 p.m. today to finish a strong sandbag production effort," the city said, using boldface type to emphasize the point.
Flood fighters still must deal with uncertainty, including the possibility the area could receive between a quarter to a half inch of moisture late next week, according to Greg Gust, a weather service meteorologist who gave Friday's flood outlook briefing.
The Red River at Fargo is forecast to reach minor flood stage Sunday, March 31, and continue to rise to 23 feet, where it will plateau for several days before likely continuing its rise as the gradual spring thaw progresses.
The Red River, which crept above 16.5 feet early Friday, March 29, will climb to 18.4 feet on Sunday, entering minor flood stage, which begins at 18 feet. Moderate flood stage begins at 25 feet, and major flood stage starts at 30 feet.
In a spring thaw update issued Thursday, the weather service said current conditions suggest a probable spring flood in Fargo-Moorhead ranging from 33.8 feet to 36.5 feet, but a higher crest is possible if the area receives heavy rains.