The National Weather Service says there's a chance of record flooding in the Red River Valley this spring. The NWS released its second flood outlook of the season Tuesday in Fargo.
The probabilistic outlook says there is a 20 percent chance the Red River will equal the record flood of 2009 in Fargo-Moorhead. There's a 50 percent chance the river will rise higher than 2010 which was the sixth-highest flood on record in Fargo-Moorhead.
It also appears flooding will be more widespread this year than last. National Weather Service Meteorologist Greg Gust said major flooding is also likely on many tributaries of the Red River.
"It's not looking good," Gust said.
The weather service statistical outlook model is based equally on three sets of data. One is soil moisture and winter stream flows. Both are very high; in fact, the Otter Tail River has been flooding for several weeks.
Second is snow pack and how much water is in the snow. Gust said across much of the southern Red River Valley, snowfall has already exceeded a normal winter and in Fargo-Moorhead snowfall is just behind the pace set in the all-time record setting winter of 1996-97.
Third is the weather from now until spring. Gust said the long-range forecast models clearly show a wet, cold forecast for the next three months.
"At this point that raises a significant amount of concern to those of use from the weather and hydrologic side," said Gust. "I don't feel good about it at all."
Gust said colder-than-normal temperatures could delay the spring melt into April, setting up a very unpredictable flood event.
"If that process is delayed and if that process occurs into April, recognize our risk for heavy precipitation increases because now we come closer into the spring thunderstorm season," explained Gust.
He referred to the forecast model as a three-legged stool. "Two legs have already been kicked out from under us and the third leg is wobbly," Gust said.
The risk of significant flooding is not a surprise to Fargo-Moorhead officials. Fargo Deputy Mayor Tim Mahoney said everyone has shoveled enough snow to understand the potential exists for flooding.
Still, Mahoney said he's concerned about the potential for another event like the record-setting 2009 flood.
"We will prepare for this and we're confident we can take it on again. We're just hopeful it's not as high as they predict. Over 41-42 feet is a lot of water, so it just makes us go higher in our preparations," said Mahoney.
Smaller communities along the Red River are also watching the flood outlooks with concern.
"It's no surprise a flood was coming, but this definitely kicks it up a notch," said Curt Johannsen, mayor of Hendrum, a small town 30 miles north of Fargo-Moorhead. "It's looking more and more like it could be another 2009."
Johannsen said he will be much more interested in the flood outlooks presented by the National Weather Service next month when even more data will have been crunched by computer models.
Officials in Fargo and Moorhead are planning neighborhood meetings over the next several weeks to let residents know about flood preparations.