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Red River: North Dakota Sees Record Flood Levels

April 1st, 2009 Category: Floods

North Dakota and Minnesota, USA - March 29th, 2009

North Dakota and Minnesota, USA - March 29th, 2009

The states of North Dakota (center left), South Dakota (bottom left) and Minnesota (right) in the USA as well as the southern part of Canada’s Manitoba (top left) and Ontario (top right) provinces are all visible here. Lake Superior shows its southwestern tip in the upper right corner.

Recently, North Dakota, Minnesota and Manitoba have all been affected by high water levels in the Red River. The Fargo-Moorhead area in North Dakota saw record flood levels.

The flood is a result of saturated and frozen ground, Spring snowmelt exacerbated by additional rain and snow storms, and virtually flat terrain.

Unlike the vast majority of rivers in the United States, the Red River flows northward, which means melting snow and river ice, as well as runoff from its tributaries, often create ice dams, which cause the river to overflow. The valley is essentially flat, leading to overland flooding, with no high ground on which to take refuge.

The river crest was originally predicted to reach a level of near 43 feet (13 m) at Fargo by March 29, although the river in fact crested at 40.82 feet (12.44 m) at 12:15 a.m. March 28, and started a slow decline. The river continued to rise to the north as the crest moved downstream.

Other climate-related factors also influenced the flooding: ground which was already saturated when it froze at the onset of winter, melting snow which could not be absorbed by the frozen ground, and additional precipitation from a rain storm on March 22 and a later snowstorm.

A low-pressure area caused the rain storm on March 22 and by March 25 a total of 15 to 25 cm (6 to 10 inches) fell in the Winnipeg area, and 20 to 30 cm (8 to 12 inches) in southern Manitoba. In northeastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota, around 8 inches of snow accumulated from the same storm.

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