Weather is key to valley's flood fate
We may wish the floods would never come, but the sooner they start, the better, meteorologists say. The best-case scenario would be a gradual thaw, said Mark Frazier, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Grand Forks. Daytime...
We may wish the floods would never come, but the sooner they start, the better, meteorologists say.
The best-case scenario would be a gradual thaw, said Mark Frazier, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Grand Forks. Daytime highs above freezing and nighttime lows below freezing would allow for a slow, more controlled melt. That's more likely to happen in March, Frazier explained, and it would translate into a gradual rise in river levels -- provided a few other pieces are in place:
n Dry conditions. "In other words, we don't have a late March blizzard or even a late March rainstorm that puts down an inch or two across the valley," Frazier said.
n Wind. It helps evaporate moisture out of the snowpack, removing water that would otherwise eventually enter the river.
The worst-case scenario would be a cool spring, delaying melting until April. A rapid warmup would be more likely then because both daytime and nighttime temperatures would be above freezing. The chance of rainstorms also increases, adding more water.
Which scenario will play out is still unknown.
"That's the $64,000 question," Frazier said. "We may have general trends for the next four to six weeks, but it's too far out to exactly pinpoint."
What meteorologists do know is that the southern Red River Valley has received a large amount of snow. Fargo already has received about 67 inches of snow, compared with an average of 34 inches, Frazier said.
"I would suspect the southern regions of the Red River system will be impacted by that last snowfall. To what extent, I don't know," Frazier said.
When thawing starts, the amount of snow will be less important than how much water the snow holds, what meteorologists refer to as the "snow water equivalent." Around Fargo, the snow holds 4 to 5 inches of water; around Grand Forks, it's 3 to 4 inches.
Despite the unknowns about weather conditions, Frazier has confidence in the cooperative approach local, state and federal agencies take to fight floods in the Red River Valley.
"The level of coordination as it pertains to this river valley is extremely high," Frazier said, whose office works with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Geological Survey, the North Dakota State Water Commission and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
"I've seen nothing but good."
City officials are also confident the protections in place for Grand Forks and East Grand Forks are sufficient.
"I don't know that there's anything that would make our system fail other than more water than we're protected to," said Kevin Dean, public information officer with the City of Grand Forks.
The latest prediction from the National Weather Service cites a 50-50 chance the Red River will rise above 51.1 feet at Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. The city's floodwalls protect to 60 feet, and 3 more feet can be added to that.
"We don't like to think even in 1997 that we failed" when waters reached 54.35 feet, Dean added. "We just got too much water. There are stories that say that our levees gave way, that they broke in 1997. That is not true. They did not break. They were simply overtopped by water."