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Flooding History, Conditions At Odds

Even though the historical odds are very slim that the Fargo-Moorhead area will have another major flood this spring, conditions indicate the opposite, according to Adnan Akyuz, North Dakota’s state climatologist and assistant professor of climatology in North Dakota State University’s soil science Department.

“In 113 years of recorded history, there were only three incidents when back-to-back major floods occurred,” he says. “1965-66, 1978-79 and 2006-07 were the three incidents when the U. S. Geological Survey gauge recorded the stage at or above 30 feet, the major flood stage in Fargo.

“We just had a major flood in 2009,” he adds. “The most commonly asked question so far is: What is the probability that we might have another major flood?”

Historically, the annual probability that the Red River at Fargo will exceed 30 feet two years in a row is 2.6 per cent.

“However, there were 13 years when major flooding was observed in Fargo-Moorhead: 1897, 1965, 1966, 1969, 1975, 1978, 1979, 1989, 1997, 2001, 2006, 2007 and 2009,” Akyuz says. “That means the odds of having a major flood each year in the area is 11.4 per cent.”

The bad news is that the current conditions are indicating another major flood is likely. Fargo has received 4.28 inches of precipitation in liquid equivalence since Dec. 1, which is the highest amount in recorded history. By this date last year, Fargo received 3.25 inches.

The National Weather Service’s latest forecast calls for a 25 per cent chance of flooding similar to last year’s record flooding.

“While we are planning for a long-term solution to our natural problem, we will have to do everything we can to help mitigate the impact of the upcoming threat,” Akyuz says.

“While we are removing the snow from parking lots and roads, for example, we have to make sure we take it someplace where it will not end up in the river. It may be a very small difference compared with the area holding tremendous water potential, but we are looking for very small differences that can add up.”

The good news is the forecast is co-operating. The National Weather Service is expecting drier-than-normal conditions for the next 14 days.

“If we do not have additional significant precipitation and get a slow warm-up and a slow snowmelt rate, we can dodge the disaster,” Akyuz says.

“History shows that not all extreme winter precipitations produced major floods. For example, 1994 and 1937, the second and third snowiest seasons, produced peak flood stages of 26.69 and 10.17 feet, respectively. Let’s hope for another 1937.”

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