Saturday, March 28, 2009

Cold weather eases flood threat in Fargo

At Fargo - the previous record flood stage was 40.1 (flood stage is 18.0') - the Red River topped the record yesterday - is expected to stay above the record through tomorrow.

FARGO, North Dakota (Reuters) - Residents of the flood-swollen Red River Valley got a break from the weather on Saturday as cold temperatures prevented more winter thaw from swamping the city and flood barriers held, officials said.

Hundreds of National Guard troops, local residents and volunteers continued to reinforce and raise sandbagged barriers and floodwalls. They had been bracing for a record crest on Saturday but awoke instead to a slightly lower water level.

"The river is cresting. That's good news," said Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker. "Everyone thinks it's over. It's not over until the river gets down maybe 6, 7 feet."

Cold weather froze flood waters in the fields around this metropolitan area of 175,000 people, keeping spring melt from adding to the flooded river, said Mike Hudson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Fargo.

The Red River Valley is an important farming region for spring wheat and sugar beets, although spring planting is still weeks away. Wet soil could delay some seeding, which for wheat and corn can go well into May. U.S. wheat prices fell on Friday as snowstorms in the Plains aided needed soil moisture.

The river's level has continued to drop since midnight CDT and was 40.61 feet at 1:15 p.m. CDT on Saturday, down from 40.82 feet. The temperature was 21 degrees F (minus 6 Celsius) just before 1 p.m.

The river had been forecast to crest on Saturday at 42 feet before freezing temperatures caused the weather service to revise its forecast. The river should stay at its current level or drop over the next three to four days, the NWS said.

Hudson said ice jams could cause the river to rise or fall half a foot to one foot in the next 24 hours, but the freezing temperature looked set to keep run-off stalled for a while.

Also - from north of the border... "Cool weather buys flood fighters a bit more time"

Last week, four rural municipalities just north of Winnipeg — St. Andrews, St. Clements, East St. Paul and West St. Paul — declared states of emergency as flooding washed out roads and submerged yards.

Steve Strang, the reeve of the Rural Municipality of St. Clements, northeast of Winnipeg, said in previous spring floods rural communities have had enough time to deal with flooding before the Red River crests.

This year, because of the a rapid freeze-thaw cycle, everything is happening at once. Strang said the outlook for property owners is grim once the weather warms up and water starts to flow again.

"All that snow is sitting on the ground and it's all going to start flowing again," said Strang. "And now we've got a river that's rising and our ditches are starting to back up because the level within the ditch is equal to that of the river, so if it's not going to flow into the river, where's it going to go? This is a huge concern."

Despite all of the new precipitation and the record flood levels in Fargo, N.D., the peak level predicted for Winnipeg itself has so far remained on par with that of the 1979 flood, which is considered the second-worst in the region.

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