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Red River rising to record levels for October

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A photograph of the Red River of the North on April 4, 2019
A photograph of the Red River of the North on April 4, 2019 from the Moorhead, Minn. side as it flows north under the Veterans Memorial Bridge
Matt Mikus | MPR News

The Red River of the North is breaking records this fall.

Persistent wet weather has left the Red and many of its tributaries flowing at levels typically seen in April, not October.

"Fargo, Grand Forks — all the way up to Winnipeg, the river is at its highest level for this time of year, ever," said National Weather Service meteorologist Greg Gust, who’s based in Grand Forks.

At the northwest Minnesota town of Oslo, the Red River has risen to major flood stage. Elsewhere on the river’s northward path, the Red and many of its tributaries are reaching moderate flood stage.

Some roads are already being closed because of high water, and Gust said that will likely continue, but he added that no communities are threatened by floodwater.

Downstream and across the Canadian border last week, Winnipeg put its Red River floodway diversion into operation, shifting the floodwaters away from the city. It was the first time the diversion had ever been used this late in the year.

A major snowstorm last week across eastern North Dakota added moisture to a fall that's brought precipitation far above normal.

"Our typical October rainfall is in the 2-inch range," said Gust. "From mid-September until now, we've had over 10 inches of rain in a huge area."

And while it's too early to say how this wet fall might affect spring flooding after the snowmelt, Gust said it does increase the risk.

"You're going to have a lot of wet landscape, you're going to have a lot of water that is still in ditches and rivers,” he said, “so you possibly are going to have a carryover of that into the spring."

Forecasters don't start preparing spring flood outlooks until December or January. But as he looks ahead to next spring’s flooding season, Gust said a wet fall is one of three key factors — including winter snowfall and the rate that snow melts — that will likely have an impact on the severity of annual spring floods.