Report: Red River predicted to crest just shy of 38 feet (video)
FARGO – The Red River in Fargo is expected to crest just shy of 38 feet, according to a new flood forecast the National Weather Service issued today.
The forecast issued just after noon predicts the high mark of the river’s spring flood to be 37.9 feet on Wednesday and Thursday.
It’s the first official deterministic crest prediction from the weather service, which on Wednesday and Thursday forecasted a crest ranging from 38 to 40 feet.
Today’s forecast lowers the crest range to 37 to 39 feet. The reduction is due to the lessening risk of severe rain early next week.
Forecasters had warned that if 2 inches of rain fell in the approaching system, the crest could be as high as 40 feet.
The weather service said in the forecast that the Red River will rise quickly due to the sudden appearance of spring-like temperatures. Highs on Saturday, Sunday and Monday are expected to be in the mid- to upper-60s, after Fargo broke the 50-degree mark for the first time today.
A 37.9-foot crest would be the fifth-largest Fargo flood in recorded history, but because of flood control improvements since the city’s worst floods in 1997 and 2009, it is expected to be a largely manageable event. The 40.84-foot record was set in 2009.
The new forecast comes as Fargo sandbags about 50 homes today, planning to use 100,000 of the 1.8 million sandbags they have on hand – 1.1 million which were made this year.
“We keep waiting for this to start. Well, it’s started,” Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said this morning at a city briefing. “This will probably be in the top five of floods of record.”
Walaker said this morning he guessed the flood will be 37 or 38 feet.
Sandbagging across Fargo began today at 9:30 a.m. with around 1,500 high school students planning to help build sandbag dikes. Sandbagging in the city should be completed by this afternoon, officials said this morning.
Clay levee construction along Second Street from Fourth Avenue South to Sixth Avenue North will begin tonight. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will oversee the project and have contractors working on the north and south ends of the levee at the same time.
Because of levee construction, Second Street South will close at 2 p.m. today between Fourth Avenue South and Main Avenue. Traffic will be detoured via Fourth Street and Main Avenue.
Second Street North will also close at 2 p.m. today between Sixth and First avenues north. Traffic will be detoured via Fourth Street North.
The Broadway Bridge over the Red River will close either late this afternoon or this evening. The closure will depend on the rate at which the Red River is rising.
Two other large levees in Fargo, on Oak Street in north Fargo and Lindenwood Drive on the south side, are already built, City Engineer April Walker said. All TrapBags the city plans to use unless the forecast changes are also in place, she said.
“By Monday at noon, we’d like to be all done,” Deputy Mayor Tim Mahoney said, referring to citywide protection.
Sandbagging in the flood-prone Oakcreek neighborhood in south Fargo begins tomorrow morning, and a Code Red alert will be sent out to surrounding neighborhoods to ask for volunteers, said City Administrator Pat Zavoral.
Cass County has delivered about 140,000 sandbags to areas north and south of Fargo, said County Engineer Jason Benson, and those deliveries continue today and Saturday.
Vern Bennett, chairman of the Cass County Commission, warned rural residents that roads and bridges start closing at a 28-foot level on the Red River, and that driving around barricades is a $250 fine.
“We want people to be very cautious of this and recognize that even though we’re happy that the crest is not going to be as high as it could be, there’s still problems starting at 28 feet,” Bennett said.
Forecasters last week had said there was a 40 percent chance the Red River would top the 2009 mark. But due in part to ideal melting conditions, the weather service dialed back its predictions earlier this week, prompting the city to scale back flood protection to 40 feet for sandbag dikes and 41 to 42 feet for levees.
The Red River was at 21.2 feet at 11:15 a.m. today
Greg Gust, warning coordination meteorologist for the weather service in Grand Forks, said the weather service will likely stick to a range of 1 to 2 feet until the river is within 72 hours of peaking.
In a statement released this morning, Gust said that flooding in the Red River Basin “has been kicking in more quickly now than ‘normal,’” due in part to the rising temperatures and the “poised water” that had already been moving slowly in ditches in small streams.
For instance, the forecast released today predicts the Red River in Fargo to hit 23.8 feet Saturday and rising to 29.6 feet Sunday –swelling the river from below the 25-foot moderate flood stage to just short of the 30-foot major flood stage in 24 hours.
Fargo finally set the new record for the latest occurrence of a 50-degree day, as the temperature at Hector International Airport hit 50 degrees just before 11 a.m. and was up to 54 degrees by about noon, according to the weather service.
Prior to this year, the latest day Fargo had seen a 50-degree temperature was April 18 – a record set in 1881, the first year official weather records were kept here. The 132-year-old mark was beaten by eight days.
Check back later for an update on this developing story.