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NWS: Major flooding risk in valley is small

The risk of flooding throughout the Red River Valley continues to be quite low, according to the latest National Weather Service outlook released Thursday.

National Weather Service

The risk of flooding throughout the Red River Valley continues to be quite low, according to the latest National Weather Service outlook released Thursday.

Little snow and dry soil appears to have given the region a "brief respite" from the usual wet pattern, the agency said. River levels are somewhat higher than normal, it said, but well below record levels of the past two winters.

"Minor spring flooding expected across southern portions of the Red River Basin, mainly Fargo and south, while northern parts of the basin may not reach flood stage," the agency said.

The risk of the Red River or its tributaries exceeding minor flood stage are "low," or less than 33 percent, over the next three months. The risk is slightly higher in the Fargo area, Minto, N.D., and Oslo, Minn. The highest risk is in Oslo where there's a 25 percent chance of moderate flooding.

The risk of major flooding is lower still. In Grand Forks, it's 3 percent. In Fargo, it's 6 percent. In Oslo, it's 4 percent. And in Minto, it's less than 2 percent.


In the Devils Lake area, where rising waters broke records last year, the lake is likely to rise less than 6 inches between now and the end of September, the agency said. Given lower lake levels, this means the lake could enter this summer lower than in summer 2011.

Less wet

But this is only an outlook, which is not as accurate as a forecast. An outlook cannot account for a big snow or rainstorm or how frozen the soil is, which affects its ability to absorb water.

Vince Godon, a meteorologist in the National Weather Service's Grand Forks office, said rain and snow is "very hard to predict" months in advance; the same with how soon the soil will thaw.

The agency will begin forecasts about seven days out from a flood event, he said.

What can be measured now is the depth of the snow pack, soil moisture, frost depth and river flow, according to the agency's outlook.

Below is a summary of the outlook for the Red River Valley and Devils Lake:

• In large areas of the basin, there is no or minimal snow cover. Where there is snow cover, it's only a few inches deep and containing less than an inch of water.


• The top few inches of soil is somewhat dry but frozen. At deeper levels, the soil appeared damp, but not saturated. According to the National Climatic Data Center, a sister agency to the National Weather Service, soil moisture in the valley was quite a bit lower compared to last winter when extremely wet conditions prevailed. In northwest Minnesota, there's even a mild drought.

• River levels are higher than normal, but it was higher still the past several years. As of Wednesday, the U.S. Geological Survey gauge in Grand Forks was at 16.39 feet compared to 17.39 feet the same day in 2011, 16.63 feet in 2010 and 16.45 feet in 2009. The gauge in Fargo was at 14.41 feet compared to 15.7 feet in 2011, 15.13 feet in 2010 and 14.93 feet in 2009.

• A dry fall and early winter allowed Devils Lake to drop a foot from record of 1,454.3 feet at Creel Bay in summer 2011. There's a 50 percent chance it'll rise a half foot to 1,453.9 feet and a 20 percent chance it'll rise a foot to 1,454.5 feet.

• The agency also made general statements about precipitation, despite the difficulty of prediction. Precipitation should be close to normal in March and normal to above normal in April and May.

NCDC data suggests that the next three months would more than likely be drier than normal, especially in northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota.

The next flood outlook for the valley and Devils Lake is scheduled for release on March 1.

Reach Tran at (701) 780-1248; (800) 477-6572, ext. 248; or send email to ttran@gfherald.com .

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