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Red River Flood Risk Seen High, But Less Than 2009

The Red River has the potential for major spring flooding in Manitoba and North Dakota, Canadian and U. S. forecasters said Jan. 25, but it’s unlikely to be as severe as last year, when flood waters swamped fields and left many farmers unable to plant crops.

High soil moisture before winter and high levels on tributaries feeding into the Red River in North Dakota have raised the flood threat, but that has been partly offset by less precipitation in the U. S. state during autumn and early winter, the forecasters said.

“We are concerned about the flood potential right now – not overly, but there is a significantly above-average flood potential this year,” said Alf Warkentin, government flood forecaster for the province of Manitoba.

Last year’s Red River flood was the second-worst in the past 100 years in Manitoba and one of the worst in North Dakota’s history.

The Red has a 49 per cent chance of reaching the major flood stage at Fargo, North Dakota, the river valley’s biggest U. S. city, but only a 10 per cent chance of coming close to last year’s levels, said Mike Lukes, service hydrologist with the U. S. National Weather Service in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

There’s also a 10 per cent chance of a flood of last year’s magnitude at the border town of Pembina, North Dakota, Warkentin said.

Those odds will need to be reassessed after the blizzard that passed through Manitoba and North Dakota on Jan. 25, dumping 20 cm (eight inches) of snow in Manitoba alone, Warkentin said.

“Hopefully, we don’t get any more of these big storms.”

The flood forecast is early and subject to change with at least two months before significant melting begins, Lukes said.

“It’s a very complex situation and the closer we get to it, the better we can get a handle on it,” he said.

Precipitation at Grand Forks from Sept. 1 to Dec. 31, was less than half the amount seen in the same period a year earlier, and also less than the normal amount, Lukes said.

The amount of precipitation and rate of spring melting will be key factors in how much flooding the state gets this year, Lukes said.

Manitoba will conduct a survey of snowpack and issue a forecast in February.

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