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Red River crest forecasts keep rising

The Red River has a 50-50 chance of reaching 49.6 feet this spring in the Grand Forks area, according to the National Weather Service's flood outlook on Wednesday.

Fargo flooding (2009)
Officials patrol the swollen Red River between Moorhead, Minn., and Fargo, N.D., background, as they await the predicted weekend crest Thursday, March 26, 2009. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

The Red River has a 50-50 chance of reaching 49.6 feet this spring in the Grand Forks area, according to the National Weather Service's flood outlook on Wednesday.

That's more than 3 feet higher than the last flood outlook nearly a month ago. It would also be higher than the fourth highest crest on record, which was 49.33 feet in 2009.

Other points throughout the northern valley could see crests as much as 4 feet higher than in the last flood outlook.

Meanwhile, Fargo area residents could be facing record flooding.

"Will this be the big one? Quite possibly," Greg Gust, a weather-service meteorologist, said of the Fargo area. "We encourage people to prepare for a flood of record."

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The probable flood crest range for the Fargo area now is 39 to 41 feet, with the crest possibly 10 days to two weeks away. Forecasters currently are pointing to a potential crest of 40.3 feet, he said, with a probable minimum of 38 feet and maximum of 42 feet.

The record crest in the Fargo area is 40.84, set in 2009.

The latest flood outlook indicates a 95 percent probability of major flooding from Fargo and all points north along the Red River, including Halstad, Minn.; Grand Forks; Oslo, Minn.; Drayton, N.D.; and Pembina, N.D.

Crest speculated

The weather service speculated Wednesday that the likely Red River crest could occur sometime late next week in the Fargo area, but more likely will be the week of April 29.

Water flows are just beginning in the southern valley and active runoff should begin late this week or early next week as temperatures reach the 40s.

North of the Fargo area, the probable crests are about three weeks away, with Pembina being perhaps about four weeks out.

Major factors

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The weather service released its updated flood outlook Wednesday after calculating the effects of a winter storm this week that dumped a foot of snow or more in some areas of the valley and added a half-inch to an inch of liquid.

"The big catalyst is the most recent rain-snowfall event," Gust said.

Other major factors this spring are:

• Unprecedented snowpack remain across the valley for this time in April.

• Snow storms and freezing rain added three-fourths to an inch of water in the southern valley; about one-third inch in the central valley; and about one-tenth inch in the far northern valley. There's a slight chance of snow through Sunday.

• Daily temperatures have averaged about 12 degrees below normal through March and so far in April. They're expected to continue to rise, but remain below normal.

• A deep layer of frozen ground persists, which will speed up runoff to rivers.

• The risk of a rapid warm-up is high, which could mean a lot of snowmelt flowing into the rivers in a short time.

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The weather service office in Grand Forks and the agency's North Central River Forecast Center in Chanhassen, Minn., based the latest probabilities on a new forecasting style that incorporates a variety of models. The new tool was developed in response to this year's unusual weather pattern.

Officials described it as a unique bridge between traditional probabilistic forecasts, which provide probabilities of the river exceeding certain levels, and deterministic forecasts, which predict crest levels but aren't available until water is flowing freely.

Call Bonham at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1110; or send email to kbonham@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: RED RIVER
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