Fargo-Moorhead gets ready as major flood risk rises
The city of Fargo is cranking up its flood protection machine as the risk of a major spring flood on the Red River now stands at 50 to 75 percent.
The latest flood forecast, issued Thursday by the National Weather Service, is intended as an alert so officials and residents can be vigilant and take steps if necessary.
A river level of 30 feet is considered a major flood in Fargo-Moorhead, where the river reaches flood stage at 18 feet.
The good news is that, so far, forecasters don't see a flood of 1997 proportions in the making, when the river crested at 39.57 feet, a 500-year flood. For that to happen, a lot more precipitation would have to fall; the timing of the spring thaw also is a key factor.
"All these factors would have to align," said Patrick Slattery, a spokesman with the National Weather Service's regional headquarters in Kansas City. "They're not expecting anything approaching the 1997 level."
Still, he added, the forecast means residents should be alert to the possibility of significant flooding.
"The best time to prepare for a flood is before it happens, so pay attention," Slattery said.
Mark Bittner, Fargo's city engineer, said public works officials are taking stock of what they will have to do to prepare for spring flooding.
"We're starting to crank up the old flood protection machine," he said, adding that officials are assessing where they might have to build temporary dikes or install auxiliary pumps.
"There's no question that there's enough snow out there that if it melts quickly there could be some problems," Bittner said.
Chad Martin, director of operations for the city of Moorhead, said the city doesn't face serious flood challenges until the river reaches 35 feet.
"We probably have a million bags on the ground already, and always do," he said.
Don Cline, head of the National Weather Service's airborne snow survey, said the snowpack around Fargo and areas south and southwest contain 3 or 4 inches of water, or twice the normal amount.
"It is above normal, but it's not something you've never seen before," said Cline, based in Chanhassen, Minn. "It's still fairly early in the season."
To date, the area has received between 200 and 300 percent of normal precipitation since September, with 23 days of snow in December, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA.
That has resulted in water content in the snowpack ranging from 170 to 300 percent above normal.
Forecasters said the flood outlook will become clearer as weather conditions in the Red River Basin evolve over the coming months.
Until then, people should continue to monitor local flood conditions and follow the government's flood preparedness advice at floodsmart.gov.