Floods close parks, roads as river levels continue to rise

Many waterways in the region are expected to reach moderate flood stage this week in the wake of an early October blizzard and the wettest September on record.

In Grand Forks/East Grand Forks, the Red River was at approximately 40 feet Monday, Oct. 14, and is predicted to reach 41.5 feet Tuesday. At Grand Forks, 28 feet is considered minor flood stage and it is considered moderate flooding at 40 feet. The city's flood control system protects Grand Forks to a crest of 60 feet.

The Red River at Oslo, Minn., is expected to reach major flood stage on Tuesday, Oct. 15. Portions of highways 220 and 317 closed Sunday, Oct. 13, north of the town due to flooding.

Oslo Mayor Erika Martens said the city is prepared. Oslo made national headlines in the spring as the city became an island because roads surrounding the town were covered by the rising Red River. Martens said she doesn’t expect the water to rise as significantly as it did in the spring. The river is expected to crest at 36.5 feet, according to the National Weather Service.

“The city itself is sitting good,” she said. “There’s no water over the main roads in and out and, even if it gets to 36, we don’t anticipate it getting over the roadway in and out. All we can do at this point is just monitor it and hope for the best. I’m more worried about the farmers in the area than I am the city of Oslo.”


In Grand Forks, reports of flooded basements poured in over the weekend as Blizzard Adam dumped 7 inches of snow in Grand Forks and up to 3 feet near Devils Lake and Langdon. The heavy snowfall paired with wind speeds between 40 to 60 mph created zero visibility and closed highways. Interstate 94, Highway 2 and Interstate 29 shut down for much of Friday and Saturday. Secondary highways near Devils Lake were deemed impassable for much of the weekend.

The Herald named the blizzard in honor of Adam Scheel, the UND hockey player who started in goal Friday evening for UND, marking his official regular-season return since injuring his knee in February. The Herald has been naming blizzards since at least 1990. The newspaper names the storms after notable residents, newsmakers or those with a connection to the Herald.

Grand Forks saw record-breaking daily snowfall levels on Friday and Saturday, according to the weather service.

The storm system was ushered in by rain and drizzle and the weather service reports there was about 1 to 3 inches of precipitation from Oct. 5-12. This fall season, from September to November, will go down as the wettest fall period in history, the weather service said in a review of the storm. The region saw from 5 to 15 inches of precipitation during the past month.

Meteorologist Brad Hopkins said there could be light snow overnight Monday and into Tuesday. The storm system will likely drop less than an inch of snow on the area but warmer weather is expected to follow. Temperatures could reach the 50s later this week, Hopkins said.

River levels are expected to rise more as the snow melts.

Floodwaters forced campers at the Red River State Recreation Area out of the East Grand Forks park early Monday, Oct. 14.

Catherine Johnson, the park's manager, said the campsite closed early for the season because the river rose faster and higher than predicted. There were still 45 campers at the park Monday, and Johnson said there were reservations up until Nov. 11, when the park was slated to close.


“I’ve been here for 10 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said. “The predictions just kept changing and the river came up a lot faster than we thought.”

In Walsh County, Emergency Manager Brent Nelson said sump pumps were reportedly running in homes throughout the county, but no major flooding inside houses had yet been reported. Nelson said the county’s biggest impacts from the storm were downed trees.

“As the melt picks up here towards the end of the week, we might see more problems with water bonding and people having more problems with their basements,” he said. “The other thing is people need to be very cautious while driving around the county. The paved roads are good, but township and county gravel roads are very saturated, very soft. And all the roads have a fairly significant amount of water in the ditches alongside of them.”

Nelson said the biggest concern is for flooding on the Red River because the Park and Forest rivers will rise and then drop extra water into the main body of water.

In Grand Forks, the city asked residents to make sure sump pumps are pumping outside and not into a drain inside homes because the sanitary pump station is at capacity. A press release said the sanitary stations were pumping 23-25 million gallons of water per day over the weekend. The pumps usually only handle around 8 million gallons per day.

The lower levels of Lincoln Drive Park are closed and many Greenway trails are flooded. The city said four flood pump stations were activated over the weekend as waters rose.

The Red River is predicted to reach moderate levels in Pembina closer to the weekend and hit 45.3 feet by Monday, Oct. 21.

Nelson said many of the homes that may be impacted by the flooding in Walsh County are accustomed to the rising waters. He said sandbags and cleanup kits are available at the Emergency Management office.


Hopkins said it’s unusual to see such severe storms so early in the winter season. He said it’s difficult to say how or if the wet weather will impact flooding this spring.

“We’re not even into winter yet,” he said. “We’re still in fall; everything is still open. A lot of it depends upon when everything freezes up, how much snow we get over the winter and what kind of melt we have in the spring.”

The flooding Red Lake River rises on the Louis Murray Bridge in East Grand Forks Monday. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Tess covers crime and courts for the Grand Forks Herald. She previously worked for the Associated Press, Lincoln Journal Star, Omaha World-Herald and The Voice News. Reach her at (701) 780-1267, or on Twitter @ByTessWilliams.
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