Fargo-Moorhead calm as Red River crestsby Tom Robertson, Minnesota Public Radio
Fargo, N.D. — The Red River has crested in Fargo, N.D., and begun to fall without doing major damage.
The National Weather Service says the river topped out at just under 37 feet, or 19 feet over flood stage on Sunday afternoon. That is well below the city's flood defenses.
The Red spilled from its banks early in the week due to runoff from a rapid snowmelt. But damage was limited mostly to areas right along the river and to rural areas in western Minnesota and eastern North Dakota.
City officials say they'll wait until the river falls several more feet before dismantling their temporary dikes and levees.
For people who live along the river, the flood this year was a much different experience than it was when the river reached a record level in 2009.
As the swollen Red River neared its crest Sunday morning, it was only about 30 feet from Mark Ulliman's back deck in Moorhead. But Ulliman didn't seem too concerned. His family was getting ready to go to church, and he thought later he might even get a haircut.
Ulliman says the flood this year is far different than last year's monster event.
"I think a lot of people this year have a feeling that, after last year, this is pretty much a walk in the park. The weather is much better, too," said Ulliman.
Last year, flooding was interspersed with freezing temperatures and a blizzard. Ulliman's basement flooded, and he says the neighborhood streets were like a combat zone.
In contrast, the sun was shining Sunday, kids were playing in their yards and people were out jogging or walking their dogs.
"I was amazed at how quiet it was," he said. "There was a couple of days of scrambling, but the trucks got the sandbags in and we didn't have the congestion on the roads that we had last year, and just not the anxiety and stress that we had last year."
Ulliman says he and his neighbors were much better prepared for flooding this year. After the flood last year, many put up permanent dikes or came up with better plans to protect their homes.
The same is true across the river in Fargo. Jennifer Paulsrud says as the Red rose last year, she had friends and family sleeping in chairs and on couches at her river home, as they rotated in shifts to monitor pumps and sandbags. Even so, water seeped into the basement.
This year, Paulsrud says even before the river began to rise, her husband reinforced their wooden dike structure with more sheets of plastic.
"Last year it just poured through all those spots, just horrendous," said Paulsrud. "Now, they just improved it. We feel like we know how to fight the flood."
Fargo and Moorhead city officials were on the brink of declaring victory as the water reached crest levels. However until the river recedes to a safe level, National Guard troops will be available to respond to trouble spots if they're needed.
National Guard Sgt. Brent Steinmetz doesn't think that's likely. Steinmetz has been in charge of a Quick Reaction Force since last Friday. He says his team hasn't been called out once.
"Honestly, this year is a lot quieter. It really seems like not only is the flood water not ... as high and as fast, but it also seems like the city is much, much more prepared from what they learned last year. We all did well last year, but we're doing really well this year," said Steinmetz.
People in Fargo and Moorhead may be breathing a sigh of relief. But in rural areas there's more widespread overland flooding from the Red River and its smaller tributaries. Many rural roads and farm fields could remain covered with water for a week or more.