Red River close to cresting in Fargo-Moorhead area

Flooded Red River
Cars travel over the NP Avenue bridge between Fargo, N.D. and Moorhead, Minn. on Monday, April 29, 2013. The Red River reached major flood stage over the weekend.
MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson

Associated Press

FARGO, N.D. (AP) -- The Red River appeared close to reaching its peak in Fargo and Moorhead, Minn., Tuesday after the National Weather Service dropped its crest forecast for the third straight day.

The weather service adjusted the anticipated peak of the river to 33.3 feet, down from the 35.5-foot estimate that came out Monday and the 37-foot projection that was issued on Sunday. The river begins flooding at 18 feet but few structures are affected until 38 feet.

The river was at 33.16 feet at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

"Everybody's very relieved," said Richard Thomas, who lives south of Fargo. "The situation could have been quite different if we would have had a normal warm-up and heavy rains."

Workers spent the last week building miles of clay levees and placing more than 100,000 sandbags in Fargo after receiving warnings from forecasters about a possible record flood. Cost so far is about $2 million.

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said Tuesday the city would have been "foolish" not to follow weather service guidelines.

"The naysayers say we should have known. That's ridiculous," Walaker said. "If they want to be here in this decision process, they're welcome to it."

It will be the latest spring flood crest in history for the Fargo area, surpassing the 1979 event that reached its peak on April 19 at 34.93 feet. The city didn't see its first 50 degree day of the year until Friday.

Walaker said the snowmelt went quickly last weekend.

"What was different about this one is the runoff all of a sudden was gone Sunday afternoon. It's gone," Walaker said. "It's all in the streams, but none of the streams are overflowing."

Brad Wimmer, a city commissioner and lifelong Fargo resident, said he and other leaders might have benefited from "slowing down a bit," but it was hard to do when the forecast started out with a flood range between 38 and 42 feet.

"I think everybody sort of in the back of their minds didn't believe we were going to 42 feet -- that realm," he said. "But we don't want to say `I told you so' because the experts have to weigh in and we have to listen to the experts."

Residents in the area battled three straight years of major flooding, beginning with a record-setting crest of nearly 41 feet in 2009 that forced thousands to evacuate and inundated 100 homes. Since then the city has improved its flood protection by building levees and buying out homes in flood-prone areas.

April Walker, a Fargo engineer who specializes in flood protection, said the city will learn from this year's event to help with high water down the road.

"We still love the years when the water doesn't rise," she said. "But it's nice to be prepared for the event and to be able to exercise the machine without really being at risk."