A delayed spring melt and late-winter snow has increased the risk of flooding in Fargo, N.D. and Moorhead, Minn., National Weather Service forecasters said Thursday.
The potential flood risk has steadily increased since January as February and March brought heavy snow in parts of the Red River valley.
According to the latest flood outlook, there is a 50 percent chance the Red River will reach 38 feet in Fargo-Moorhead, and a 10 percent chance the river will reach 41 feet, about the same level as the record flood of 2009.
Those river levels caused major flooding and millions in damage in past years, but since then hundreds of homes have been moved away from the river, and miles of permanent levees built.
Moorhead City Manager Michael Redlinger said in 2009 the city used about 2.5 million sandbags.
This year the city won't need to make any sandbags. About 400,000 bags remaining from the 2011 flood should be more than enough. Redlinger says even a record 41-foot flood should not cause major problems in Moorhead.
"I think that it's just a really different condition now as we look to the future," he said. "It's going to be a real good situation for us. It's good for the rest of the community: lights on for business, lights on for higher education and the K-12 system."
That's a big difference from past flood seasons when businesses and lives were on hold and college and high school students got out of class to help fill sandbags.
Across the river in Fargo, more riverfront property is in harm's way, but because of improvements the city will need less than half the number of sandbags used in 2009. This year Fargo expects to need up to one million.
The city has about 750,000 filled sandbags in storage and will fill another 500,000.
Mayor Dennis Walaker said the city will prepare for a worst-case scenario.
"We want to assure everybody in our community that we will be ready to do whatever is necessary," Walaker said. "What you have to understand is that all of this stuff is relative to what the weather is going to do."
Weather is the wild card, as it is for most spring floods. Moderate temperatures with no precipitation cause a slow melt and a very manageable flood. A rapid arrival of warm weather, combined with a fast snow melt and heavy rain could mean a lot more work and worry for Fargo officials.
It's also a big concern for rural areas. National Weather Service officials say a rapid snowmelt would cause significant flooding in rural areas of both Minnesota and North Dakota.
It's that uncertainty that has Cass County Commissioner Vern Bennett nervous.
"We must keep looking over our shoulders because between now and a week from now or two weeks from now or even three weeks from now hot weather, rain and so on could increase the numbers that we have today and put us in a desperate situation," Bennett said.
Fargo plans to start filling sandbags in early April, and holding meetings in neighborhoods likely to be affected by flooding.
Moorhead is monitoring the situation and will offer help to individual homeowners as needed.
|Fargo-Moorhead floods of record|