Officials on Friday warned residents in the Red River Valley and elsewhere in Minnesota to prepare for widespread flooding this spring.
There is a better than 50 percent chance the Red River will exceed 38 feet in Fargo-Moorhead, according to the latest flood forecast from the National Weather Service. The river reached an all-time record of 40.65 feet last year.
State officials and the National Weather Service said there is also a chance for flooding of the Mississippi River in St. Paul, the Minnesota River at Montevideo and the Crow River at Delano.
Weather Service Hydrologist Steve Buan says there's a lot of water in the snow, soil is saturated and lakes and streams are full. He said it's almost certain flooding will be widespread and severe across the Red River valley.
"There's a lot of water out there that has to move around when it melts," Buan said. "There could be some smaller communities or rural homesteads that weren't affected last year -- if the water was close to you last year, it might get closer this year."
Buan also predicted there could be people affected this year who weren't affected last year.
The current flood outlook is based on an additional two inches of precipitation in March and early April, he said.
The cities of Fargo and Moorhead are both heeding the warnings and are starting flood preparations earlier than last year.
Starting March 1, Fargo plans to start filling 1 million sandbags that will be stored in heating warehouses. Moorhead is getting supplies in place and holding neighborhood meetings to answer residents' questions and organize for a possible flood fight.
Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said it's still too early to worry, but he said he expects people to join together if the city is threatened.
"Once we have a crisis our people will respond. They might not like it, but they will respond to protect their own property," Walaker said.
Officials in both cities say they are better prepared this year. Moorhead spent about $7 million putting in new valves to keep river water out of the storm sewer system, which was a big problem last year. Moorhead is also planning to move a couple dozen homes out of flood prone areas starting this month. Earthen dikes, which are stronger than sandbag dikes, could then be built in their place.
"By removing the house, putting the clay up very quickly you're reducing volunteers, you're reducing sandbags and really just the amount of time it takes to get those neighborhoods protected," Moorhead City Manager Michael Redlinger said. "So because of those improvements we'll be a lot farther ahead."
Fargo has also purchased some homes and has added some new levees and a floodwall so that parts of the city are better protected.
The degree of flooding depends on how fast the snow melts and how many times it rains or snows in the next six weeks.
Local officials have pointed out that the weather in March can still have a significant effect on flooding, and they're hoping for favorable weather.
The Department of Public Safety is urging residents who live in flood-prone areas to consider getting flood insurance.
In the Twin Cities, chances are around 90 percent that the Mississippi will reach flood stage in St. Paul, and there's a better than 60 percent chance of major flooding. At those levels, Harriet Island Park floods, and the St. Paul Downtown Airport may have to close.
Around Hastings, it could be the highest water in a generation, weather service meteorologist Dan Luna said.
"The percentages are out there to have major flooding comparable to '01, maybe even 1965 or '69, if we have more snowfall than average and if we have a rapid melt," Luna said during a news conference Friday in St. Paul.
Luna also said there is a good chance that Minnesota River bridges like Highway 41 in Chaska and Highway 101 in Chanhassen will have to close because of flooding.
The forecast shows an 80 percent chance of major flooding in Montevideo along the Minnesota River, and the chance of the river exceeding the record 2001 flood level is 1 in 10.
The data also indicate a better than 60 percent of major flooding on the South Fork of the Crow River at Delano.
(MPR reporter Tim Nelson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.)