Forecaster expects Red River flood risk to stay highby Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio
Moorhead, Minn. — The National Weather service says the spring flood risk has increased slightly along the Red River since last month's outlook.
Forecasters are concerned a wet weather pattern will worsen conditions over the next few weeks.
The weather service says there's a 20 percent chance the Red River will exceed record 2009 flood levels in Fargo-Moorhead. Area officials are beginning to prepare for that level of flooding.
National Weather Service Forecaster Greg Gust said the wild card is weather. He said the current La Nina pattern increases the chances of a wet, stormy spring which would worsen flooding.
"So until we pull out of La Nina which may not happen until well after May, we're kind of keeping our fingers, toes and other things crossed," Gust said.
Gust said many rivers and streams in the Red River Valley are already at or near record levels for this time of year, and that flooding could be widespread this year, with the possibility of record flooding in many locations along the Red River.
Gust said even a perfect spring with little precipitation and a slow melt will bring major flooding.
"There's still so much moisture to move through the system it's hard to avoid major flooding on the mainstream Red and some of the tributaries," he said. "But certainly it would take pressure off the near record flooding. So there is still that glimmer of hope."
Fargo-Moorhead officials are already well into spring flood preparations.
Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland said the new outlook doesn't change the cities plans. He said conditions could still change dramatically, but right now he feels confident the city will be prepared for spring flooding.
"There's so many variables left to plug into that final equation before we see what the flood crest is," Voxland said. "But certainly right now we're right on target for the type of flood walls we're talking about building with sandbags. And we just have to get sandbags made and ready to go."
Moorhead will start filling 1 million sandbags next week; Fargo began Monday with a goal of filling three million sandbags.
National Weather Service forecasters say the most likely scenario is for the peak flooding in Fargo-Moorhead to happen the first week in April.
Rapid spring snowmelt brought earlier than normal flooding the past two years.
Flooding is expected to be a problem across this state this spring -- even for those who don't live in a typical flood zone.
Dan Luna with the National Weather Service said no river in the state is exempt.
"So when we think about the Blue Earth River, the Cottonwood River, any of those rivers, especially in the southern part of our state they don't quite have the level of protection that we see along the Minnesota, the Red and the Mississippi Rivers," Luna said. "We could certainly see some impacts from ice jam flooding this spring as well as just overland flooding due to the amount of snow and water we have out there already."
Kris Eide, director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said she's pleased to see communities across the state beginning flood preparations early this year.
"We have a lot of the local governments who are already starting to register volunteers," Eide said. "We really are getting ahead of the curve on this one because we know that it will be statewide."
Eide said officials are meeting with state and local leaders to help coordinate flood planning. Residents are asked to begin assessing their flood insurance policies and inventory their belongings.
Normally, there is a 30-day waiting period before a flood policy goes into effect. Flood damage is not covered under a standard homeowner's policy.
(MPR reporter Jessica Mador contributed to this report.)
- All Things Considered, 02/17/2011, 5:20 p.m.