Factors tip the scales as flood season arrives in Red River Basin

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Watchful eyes are on the Red River Basin, as spring conditions again have left the region vulnerable to flooding similar to that in 2009 and 2011.

Portions of the region on both the North Dakota and Minnesota sides of the river are at more than 80 percent risk of major flooding, said Mark Seeley, University of Minnesota Extension climatologist. Cities at risk include Wahpeton, Fargo, Moorhead, and Oslo, and Pembina , Flooding scenarios depend on a host of factors during the next month.

"We're expecting a wetter-than-normal April. A gradual thaw could definitely help matters," Seeley said. "Right now, conditions look like that's what we could see in the early days of April."

Currently, frost depth in much of northwestern Minnesota is as much as 43 inches. That leaves soil unable to absorb the moisture delivered by flooding, which in turn is fueled by four to six inches of water in the snow pack. Temperatures that rise slowly and return to below freezing at night could provide a much-needed cushion, Seeley added.

"What we don't want to see during the next month temperatures rising suddenly to the 50s and 60s and staying there. The snow melting into water would roll right over the ground," Seeley said. "We also want to go out of March and into April without thunderstorms and the significant amount of water they can add to the mix by raising river levels. At the moment, things are looking quiet with regard to severe weather."

Formed where the Bois de Sioux and Otter Tail rivers converge in western Minnesota, the Red River flows northward, creating the boundary between Minnesota and North Dakota. It is fed by 11 major watersheds. It drains 550 miles north of its origin into Manitoba's Lake Winnipeg.

Seeley and others also are monitoring developments along the Minnesota River. Currently, Montevideo is at 40 to 60 percent risk for major flooding.

Visit www.extension.umn.edu/extreme-weather for related educational information on flood preparation and recovery. Another resource, the Red River Basin Decision Information Network at www.rrbdin.org offers tools and information both for area officials and resident. Visit climate.umn.edu for more information from the University of Minnesota's climatology working group, including Seeley's WeatherTalk page.

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