Red River running high with record flowsThe Red River in Fargo-Moorhead is flowing at record levels for this time of year, but forecasters say a wet fall is a weak predictor of a spring flood.
By: By Patrick Springer, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
The Red River in Fargo-Moorhead is flowing at record levels for this time of year, but forecasters say a wet fall is a weak predictor of a spring flood.
As of Tuesday, the Red River’s stage in Fargo-Moorhead was 16.02 feet, or 1.34 feet above the 10-year average for that date, 14.68 feet.
A bit more perspective: The Red also is higher than the fall of 2008, the wettest on record, when the river was 14.79 feet on the date. Last year, the Red was 15.12 feet on the date.
Mike Lukes, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, said a study found a correlation of 17 percent to 20 percent between a wet fall and spring flooding.
“So it’s a weak predictor right now,” he said. “It’s one factor.”
As measured by the volume of water flowing, the Red River in Fargo has been running at record levels since September, said Gregg Wiche, director of the U.S. Geological Survey’s North Dakota Water Science Center in Bismarck.
Average daily flows this November and last November are almost 10 times the normal rate, and about double the previous peak flows, Wiche said.
“Certainly the flows last year and this year are unlike anything we’ve ever seen before,” he added, referring to statistics dating back to 1901.
The high river levels and flows are the result of sustained wet conditions that haven’t allowed soils, lakes and streams to go down over the past two years, Wiche said.
On Tuesday, the weather service issued river flood outlooks through February predicting the Red River has a 4 percent chance of reaching minor flood stage, which begins at 18 feet, during that time.
Forecasters give a 90 percent chance the Red River in Fargo will exceed 16.1 feet through February, and a 10 percent chance of exceeding 16.8 feet.
Minnesota’s Otter Tail River, which reached an all-time peak this summer, is the primary contributor to the high Red River levels, Lukes said.
The Otter Tail and Pelican rivers, both of which include drainage from area lakes, flow to Minnesota’s Orwell Dam, where flows are down 7 feet from their summer peak, he added.
River levels should gradually diminish through the winter, Lukes and Wiche said.
Although a wet fall is one ingredient of a possible flood, others that remain to play out include the moisture content of the snowpack in late winter, the rate of the spring melt, and whether precipitation coincides with the thaw.
Patrick Springer is a reporter at The Forum of Fargo-
Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.