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Flood Outlook For Red River Valley Remains Grim

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(credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

(credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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MOORHEAD, Minn. (AP) — Any thoughts of optimism for the Red River Valley were quickly dashed Thursday when a new forecast showed that the risk of major flooding for the southern valley of North Dakota and Minnesota is increasing, despite relatively dry weather throughout most of the region in the last month.

The cities of Fargo and Moorhead have begun filling millions of sandbags in anticipation of a third straight major flood. Thursday’s report shows about a 35 percent chance the river will exceed the record levels posted in 2009, when the river crested at just under 41 feet in Fargo. That’s up from 25 percent in the mid-February outlook.

“Well, the numbers keep going up so we need to keep preparing,” said Mark Bittner, a Fargo city engineer who attended the weather service briefing. “We were hoping that it would settle down. I’m disappointed, but we just have to continue on.”

The report gives an 80 percent chance of matching last year’s crest of just under 37 feet, the sixth-highest flood on record. Bittner said there are plans to protect Fargo structures to 43 or 44 feet.

Michael Redlinger, the Moorhead city manager, said he was taking the recent numbers in stride.

“I think this really validates why we wanted to start early,” Redlinger said. “A sandbag that’s made on March 10 is lot better than a bag that’s made on March 25.”

When asked whether there were any favorable things in the report, weather service meteorologist Greg Gust simply said, “Ouch.” Gust noted that the area might be helped by an expected gradual thaw, although there’s a greater chance for significant rain if the flood continues into April.

Key factors for major flooding, including soil moisture, continue to be high, Gust said. Although most of North Dakota has remained dry in the last few weeks, a storm around President’s Day added about 1 inch of moisture to the snowpack near the Red River headwaters south of Wahpeton.

The climate outlook calls for cooler and snowier conditions. A significant winter storm is expected to brush the southern valley next week. Models show the storm track shifting toward the Red River Valley by the third week of March.

The weather service said It’s likely that the Red River in Fargo-Moorhead won’t crest until at least the first week of April. The thaw cycle is expected to begin around March 20.

The outlook shows the risk of major flooding has decreased slightly in the northern Red River Valley and along the Sheyenne River from Valley City into Lisbon. The outlook is also improved in many Minnesota tributaries, including the Red Lake River in Crookston and the Roseau River in Roseau.

There’s a slight decrease in the prediction for Devils Lake, but it remains almost certain to surpass the record level of 1,452.05 feet above sea level set last June 27. The outlook shows about an 80 percent chance the lake this year will break that mark by 2 feet, down from about a 90 percent chance in mid-February.

Devils Lake, located in northeastern North Dakota, has risen nearly 30 feet and quadrupled in size since the state’s current wet cycle began in 1993. The flooding has swallowed up farm land and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.

Residents along many rivers in western North Dakota are also on guard. Thursday’s report shows a flood risk “well above average” for many locations on the James, Knife, Cannonball and Little Missouri rivers, as well as for the Little Muddy, Apple and Beaver creeks. The weather service said many areas need well-below-normal precipitation and a gradual melt to escape spring flooding.

The Souris River looping through north central North Dakota also remains a big concern because of the high amount of water in the snowpack, the weather service said. Flooding also is likely along the Des Lacs River.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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