By: Mike Nowatzki, INFORUM
FARGO – As the Red River reached major flood stage here on Sunday, the National Weather Service lowered its predicted peak to 37 feet late Tuesday or early Wednesday – and Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said he believes it will crest even lower than that.
The Wild Rice River, a key tributary in how the north-flowing Red floods in Fargo, was contributing less than expected because of more snowmelt sinking into the soil and less runoff, the weather service said.
Walaker, after driving south to the Wahpeton-Breckenridge area on Saturday and to the Wild Rice River on Sunday, said he won’t be surprised if the crest forecast for Fargo is lowered by another foot.
“I have never seen what I did today, and that’s all the fields are all black. There’s very little water in the ditches; the streams like the Wild Rice and the Maple and the Sheyenne, they’ve accepted all the runoff from the fields,” he said.
“I think we’re scheduled to go up in an airplane tomorrow, but I don’t know if I want to go because there’s nothing to see,” he added, laughing.
A 37-foot crest would touch some of the city’s temporary clay levees but few if any of the sandbag levees that were erected behind 134 homes, as volunteers laid just 100,000 of the 1.1 million sandbags filled this year, he said.
Still, Walaker cautioned that the flood isn’t over until the city can reopen storm sewer gates to the river.
“But it is good news. It’s just extremely good news,” he said.
‘Taking some heat off’
The weather service also had good news for Abercrombie, about 25 miles south of Fargo, where the Wild Rice is now expected to crest at 24 feet late today, down 18 inches from Friday’s forecast.
Greg Gust, warning coordination meteorologist for the weather service, said in an email that “additional local runoff has been slow to hit these rivers, taking some heat off of these crests.”
Showers with possible thunderstorms from tonight into Tuesday aren’t expected to contribute substantially to river flows, Gust said.
A 37-foot crest is the bottom end of Friday’s crest forecast of 37 to 39 feet, which was the first official deterministic crest prediction for Fargo from the weather service after earlier in the week forecasting a crest of 38 to 40 feet.
A 37-foot crest would be the seventh-highest on record in Fargo, a position currently held by the 2010 mark of 36.99 feet. The Red crested at 37.13 feet in 2006.
The record-high crest in Fargo is 40.84 feet, set on March 28, 2009.
The river was at 30 feet, which is major flood stage, as of 7:15 p.m. Sunday.
Downtown dike done
Construction of clay levees on Fargo’s Second Street North wrapped up early Sunday morning, and the city’s only ongoing flood preparation was clay diking in the Oakcreek neighborhood, where several buyout homes were demolished. That work was expected to conclude Sunday evening or early today, Walaker said.
Fargo officials hoped the weather service would lower the crest forecast on Saturday from 38 to 37 feet, but they didn’t do so until Sunday. Still, Walaker said he ordered Saturday that the Second Street dike be built to 40 feet instead of 41 feet, “based strictly on my own feelings.”
With flood prep wrapped up Sunday, many took advantage of temperatures in the low 60s to get outside and snag a closer look at the rising river.
In front of the Fargo High Rise, Concordia College sophomores Hannah Bailey of Osakis, Minn., and Kari Johnson of Woodbury, Minn., snapped pictures of the expansive Red River to chronicle their first flood here.
“This is so interesting,” Bailey said, as a Twin Cities TV news station’s live truck sat parked behind her on Second Street.
“I ran on the sidewalk two days ago,” Johnson said, referring to Moorhead’s Woodlawn Park, “and then yesterday there was no sidewalk.”
Sunday failed to match Saturday’s 73-degree high, which Bailey joked gave her “a mini heatstroke” while running. But both students said it was nice to finally be able to enjoy the weather, after Fargo set a record Friday for latest 50-degree day of the year.
“People are finally not hibernating anymore,” Bailey said, adding, “It’s finals next week, so this weekend’s been a little tough to buckle down and get studying.”
David Nilles, an amateur photographer and Fargo resident since 1976, photographed the river from several vantage points, as he has for years during the city’s many floods.
At a crest of 37 feet, Nilles noted the flood will still rank in the top 10, even if city residents are more relaxed as it passes.
“I think it shows the city has done a lot with permanent dikes so that they only have to fill in with some of these” temporary levees, the retired IRS agent said, standing near the clay levee protecting City Hall and the rest of downtown.
Walaker said it was probably too premature to talk about flood cleanup, but he expects the city to begin picking up pallets of unused sandbags in neighborhoods this week.
Gust said the risk for rain this week is still a factor for most rivers and streams north of Halstad, noting western portions of North Dakota’s Walsh and Grand Forks counties reported significant overland flooding issues late Saturday, and some road closures there remained in effect Sunday.
Additional overland flooding is still expected to develop across the Devils Lake Basin, the far northern Red River Valley and in the northern Minnesota lakes country through the early part of this week, he said.