Red River rising: 18th consecutive year of flooding--why?

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 3:08 PM GMT on March 19, 2010

Share this Blog
2
+

The Red River at Fargo, North Dakota continues to rise, with a peak expected Sunday at the 4th highest flood level observed in the past century. "Major" flood level is 30 feet, which the river surpassed on Wednesday, and the river is expected to crest near 38 feet on Sunday, just 2.8 feet below the record set last year. Flood stage is eighteen feet, and the Red River has now reached flood stage at Fargo for eighteen consecutive years, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Prior to this remarkable stretch of flooding (which began in 1993), the river flooded in just 29 of 90 years. This year's flood is rated as somewhere between a 50-year and 100-year flood. Last year's record flood was a 100-year flood. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lists the 10-year flood level for the Red River at Fargo to be 10,300 cubic feet per second. A 10-year flood, historically, has a 10% chance of occurring in a given year. In the last twenty years, the Red River has had eight 10-year floods--one every 2.5 years, on average. This year is the fourth year out of the past five with a 10-year flood. Clearly, flooding has increased significantly along the Red River over the past twenty years.


Figure 1. Current and forecast flood stage for the Red River of the North at Fargo, ND. You can access images like these using our wundermap for Fargo with the "USGS River" layer turned on. Click on the icon for USGS station 05054000, then hit the "click for graph" link.

Reasons for flooding: landform factors
According the U.S. Geological Survey, the unique landform characteristics of the Red River Valley make it highly susceptible to flooding. These factors include:

1) A relatively shallow and meandering river channel--a shallow channel holds less water and the meandering can cause flow to slow down as the channel makes its turns, causing over-bank flooding.

2) A gentle slope (averaging 0.5 to 1.5 feet per mile) that inhibits channel flow and encourages overland flooding or water "ponding" (especially on even, saturated ground) in the basin.

3) The northerly direction of flow--flow in the Red River travels from south (upstream) to north (downstream). The direction of flow becomes a critical factor in the spring when the southern (upstream) part of the Red River has thawed and the northern (downstream) part of the channel is still frozen. As water moves north toward the still frozen river channel, ice jams and substantial backwater flow and flooding can occur.


Figure 2. Peak flow of the Red River at Fargo, North Dakota through time. The two largest flow rates occurred last year (2009), and in 1997. The projected crest for Sunday (red circle) would be fourth greatest flood since reliable records began in 1901. Image credit: U.S. Geological Survey.

Reasons for this year's flood: highly unfavorable weather conditions
The USGS also cites five weather factors that can act to enhance flooding along the Red River. All five of these factors occurred to a significant degree this year:

1) Above-normal amounts of precipitation in the fall of the year that produce high levels of soil moisture, particularly in flat surface areas, in the basin. North Dakota had its 22nd wettest fall in the 115-year record in 2009.

2) Freezing of saturated ground in late fall or early winter, before significant snowfall occurs, that produces a hard, deep frost that limits infiltration of runoff during snowmelt. Fargo had a November that was much warmer than average, followed by a sudden plunge to below-zero temperatures by the second week of December. This froze the saturated ground to a great depth.

3) Above-normal winter snowfall in the basin. North Dakota had a top 15% winter for precipitation, with the period December 2009 - February 2010 ranking 15th wettest in the past 115 years.

4) Above-normal precipitation during snowmelt. Precipitation for March 1 - 18 has been 1.41", compared to the average of 0.61".

5) Above-normal temperatures during snowmelt. High temperatures in Fargo have averaged 6°F warmer than normal for March 1 - 18.

Urbanization increases flooding
Urbanization has had a major impact on increasing flooding not only along the Red River, but in every river basin in the U.S. Many cities and developed areas are located in flood plains next to major rivers and their tributaries. Highways, streets, parking lots, sidewalks, and buildings now cover large areas of the ground that used to absorb excess rain water and slow the rate at which run-off from precipitation and melting snow reached rivers. By developing large portions of our flood plains, run-off now reaches rivers more quickly, generating higher floods.

Building levees and flood defenses increases flood peaks
Defending ourselves against floods has made floods worse. Every time a new levee is built, or an old floodwall raised in height to prevent overtopping, more and more water is forced into the river bed, which raises the height of the flood. Flood waters that used to be able to spread out over their natural flood plains are now forbidden from spilling out over newly developed land in flood plains. For example, proposed improvements to the flood defense system in Fargo could cause a 4 - 10 inch rise in floods immediately downstream from the city, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

Precipitation is increasing
As the climate warms, evaporation of moisture from the oceans increases, resulting in more water vapor in the air. According to the 2007 IPCC report, water vapor in the global atmosphere has increased by about 5% over the 20th century, and 4% since 1970. Satellite measurements (Trenberth et al., 2005) have shown a 1.3% per decade increase in water vapor over the global oceans since 1988. Santer et al. (2007) used a climate model to study the relative contribution of natural and human-caused effects on increasing water vapor, and concluded that this increase was "primarily due to human-caused increases in greenhouse gases". This was also the conclusion of Willet et al. (2007). This increase in water vapor has very likely led to an increase in global precipitation. For instance, over the U.S., where we have very good precipitation records, annual average precipitation has increased 7% over the past century (Groisman et al., 2004). Precipitation over the Red River drainage basin increased by about 10 - 20% during the 20th Century (Figure 3.) The same study also found a 14% increase in heavy (top 5%) and 20% increase in very heavy (top 1%) precipitation events over the U.S. in the past century. These are the type of events most likely to cause flooding. Kunkel et al. (2003) also found an increase in heavy precipitation events over the U.S. in recent decades, but noted that heavy precipitation events were nearly as frequent at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, though the data is not as reliable back then.


Figure 3. Change in precipitation over the U.S. between 1900 - 2000, from the U.S. Cooperative network. Precipitation in the Red River drainage area increased by 10 - 20% over the 20th century. Image credit: Contemporary Changes of the Hydrological Cycle over the Contiguous United States: Trends (Groisman et al., 2002).

The future of flooding
As the population continues to expand, development in flood plains and construction of new levees and flood protection systems will continue to push floods to higher heights. With global warming expected to continue and drive ever higher precipitation amounts--falling preferentially in heavy precipitation events--it is highly probable that flooding in the Red River Valley--and over most of the northern 2/3 of the U.S. where precipitation increases are likely--will see higher and more frequent floods. With these higher and more frequent floods comes the increased risk of multi-billion dollar disasters, when a record flood event overwhelms flood defenses and inundates huge areas of developed flood plains. Obviously, we need to make smart decisions to limit development in flood plains to reduce the cost and suffering of these future flooding disasters.

References
Kunkel, K. E., D. R. Easterling, K. Redmond, and K. Hubbard, 2003, "Temporal variations of extreme precipitation events in the United States: 1895.2000", Geophys. Res. Lett., 30(17), 1900, doi:10.1029/2003GL018052.

Groisman, P.Y., R.W. Knight, T.R. Karl, D.R. Easterling, B. Sun, and J.H. Lawrimore, 2004, "Contemporary Changes of the Hydrological Cycle over the Contiguous United States: Trends Derived from In Situ Observations," J. Hydrometeor., 5, 64.85.

Milly, P.C.D., R.T. Wetherald, K.A. Dunne, and T.L.Delworth, Increasing risk of great floods in a changing climate", Nature 415, 514-517 (31 January 2002) | doi:10.1038/415514a.

Santer, B.D., C. Mears, F. J. Wentz, K. E. Taylor, P. J. Gleckler, T. M. L. Wigley, T. P. Barnett, J. S. Boyle, W. Brüggemann, N. P. Gillett, S. A. Klein, G. A. Meehl, T. Nozawa, D. W. Pierce, P. A. Stott, W. M. Washington, and M. F. Wehner, 2007, "Identification of human-induced changes in atmospheric moisture content", PNAS 2007 104: 15248-15253.

Trenberth, K.E., J. Fasullo, and L. Smith, 2005: "Trends and variability in column-integrated atmospheric water vapor", Climate Dynamics 24, 741-758.

Willett, K.M., N.P. Gillett, P.D. Jones, and P.W. Thorne, 2007, "Attribution of observed surface humidity changes to human influence", Nature 449, 710-712 (11 October 2007) | doi:10.1038/nature06207.

Links
A good way to track the flooding event is to use our wundermap for the Red River with the USGS River layer turned on.

The Fargo Flood webpage of North Dakota State University, Fargo, has some excellent links.

I'll have a new post on Monday or Tuesday.

Jeff Masters

Red River Flood 2006 (mw25)
The water level of the Red River when I took this photo was 47.2 feet, 19.2 feet above flood stage and the 6th highest level in Grand Forks' history. The river is expected to crest at 47.4 feet on Wednesday morning. Luckily, no homes have been lost in the Grand Forks area as of yet due to the flooding.
Red River Flood 2006
Fargo Flood 2009 - Elm & 15th Ave. N. (tliebenow)
Picture says it all. Clay dike built to contain the Red River in North Fargo.
Fargo Flood 2009 - Elm & 15th Ave. N.

Reader Comments

Comments will take a few seconds to appear.

Post Your Comments

Please sign in to post comments.

or Join

Not only will you be able to leave comments on this blog, but you'll also have the ability to upload and share your photos in our Wunder Photos section.

Display: 0, 50, 100, 200 Sort: Newest First - Order Posted

Viewing: 411 - 361

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24Blog Index

Quoting Patrap:
.."You Broke my Heart Fredo"..

I've never known anyone using accuweather to be so subdued.

Is this guy a Blogger here?



Dallas - Ft. Worth, TX - Be advised for



Hahaha that guy has to be on something.
Member Since: July 29, 2006 Posts: 28 Comments: 1777
.."You Broke my Heart Fredo"..

I've never known anyone using accuweather to be so subdued.

Is this guy a Blogger here?



Dallas - Ft. Worth, TX - Be advised for

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127636
Michael found out about Fredo in the Havana "nasty" bar.
Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 11003
Case of citing the law and then looking for offenders. Time to levy fines. It's a win-win-lose situation.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
Read previous post...signed Micahel. (Just a movie reference)


I think it was Barzini!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Time to start enforcing the Geneva Conventions.
The strategy of destroying the food supply of the civilian population in an area of conflict has been banned under Article 54 of Protocol I of the 1977 Geneva Conventions. The relevant passage says:

It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs, agricultural areas for the production of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works, for the specific purpose of denying them for their sustenance value to the civilian population or to the adverse Party, whatever the motive, whether in order to starve out civilians, to cause them to move away, or for any other motive.[1]
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Dr masters may have seen a Similar Radar return aboard his Flight into Hugo years ago..

Katrina's EYEWALL FROM THE P-3 Cockpit

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127636
Read previous post...signed Micahel. (Just a movie reference)
Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 11003
Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
I did not change anything. I think Pat changed his post. Just a guess.


I changed no Post..,Im a archived kinda guy Fredo.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127636
Check that...I am set at 50 posts per page..The stretched post went to page two.
Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 11003
Quoting Levi32:


I'm not sure what to make of his loop because it's not in the form of anomalies lol. Buoys in the area showed El Nino rebound with warming SSTs during late February and early March, but some of the stations appear to be coming down off their peak now.

TAO buoy data from February 1st to March 18th:



Thanks for the Graphs Levi. Atmo and I check the world buoys quite frequently. There has been quite a fluctuation in them lately. Don't know what that means.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Grothar:


You know Levi, some of us can't change to Firefox or the others because of certain systems we have or restrictions on our PC's.
Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
According to Levi….you must be unintelligent also.


I hope you haven't been being serious Geoffrey....I've only been joking.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
I did not change anything. I think Pat changed his post. Just a guess.
Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 11003
Only a burnt man Chicklit. Although I am a little suspicious of all the mega hurricane season prognosticators. But that is what this blog is all about. So I hope the shear or the ull's hold up this season. My we all rest in peace so to speak.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Levi32:


No, I think Geoffrey has become "educated" and joined the Firefox and Chrome club...lol :)


You know Levi, some of us can't change to Firefox or the others because of certain systems we have or restrictions on our PC's.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
According to Levi….you must be unintelligent also.
Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 11003
Quoting Chicklit:
Thanks for that info Grothar.
Then after that has to be the last time.



Hey, Chicklit, anything is possible. Look at this:

The Great Blizzard of 1888 or Great Blizzard of '88 (March 11 – March 14, 1888) was one of the most severe blizzards in United States' recorded history. Snowfalls of 40-50 inches (102-127 cm) fell in parts of New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut, and sustained winds of over 45 miles per hour (72 km/h) produced snowdrifts in excess of 50 feet (15.2 m). Railroads were shut down and people were confined to their houses for up to a week.[1]

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Grothar:


My blog is still streched. Did they change something?


No, I think Geoffrey has become "educated" and joined the Firefox and Chrome club...lol :)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Seasonal temps. for us in Florida next week.
Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 11003
Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
Thank you to ever un-stretched the blog. A pet peeve of mine.


My blog is still streched. Did they change something?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Thanks for that info Grothar.
Then after that has to be the last time.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Chicklit:

Grateful it's warmer today. Thought the last cold front was the last, now wondering if we're due one more next week.


Sure looks likes there may be one more on the way.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Thank you to ever un-stretched the blog. A pet peeve of mine.
Member Since: September 10, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 11003
who said, 'never trust a woman?'
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
386. Skyepony (Mod)
Temperature soars to 42ºC
Saturday, March 20, 2010
By our correspondent

Karachi

The city braved the hottest day of March on Friday when the mercury level soared to 42.2 degrees Celsius, breaking all previous records for the highest temperature in March, Pakistan Meteorological Department officials said.

On Thursday, March 18, the city wilted with 41 degrees centigrade as the maximum temperature, which broke the previous 12 year record. However, yesterday, the record was broken once again as the temperature rose to 42.2 degrees Celsius, Chief Meteorologist in Karachi Muhammad Riaz told The News.

Riaz said that the absence of rains along with dry winds from the north easterly direction were the cause of the present warm weather in the city.

“This phenomenon (of warm weather) is expected to continue in the coming months of April, May and June until the monsoon season starts. The temperatures can go up to 44 degrees Celsius in April and further rise to 46 degrees Celsius in May,” he elaborated.

“However, there is a possibility that when temperature increase so much, the atmospheric pressure over Sindh would become low and this would ultimately lead to the start of sea breeze and decrease the temperature in Karachi,” he maintained.

He said that the El Nino phenomenon has reverse effect on Pakistan and during this phenomenon, lesser rains occur in the country.
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 161 Comments: 37433
Quoting xcool:


that is really neat!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Grothar:


Yeah, like some people, they run hot and cold. LOL How you doing Chicklit?


Grateful it's warmer today. Thought the last cold front was the last, now wondering if we're due one more next week.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Pretty song.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Never mind falling gracefully to a Chicklit post,..shes a winna..in my book
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127636
Quoting gordydunnot:
Nice job Chicklit your video beats Pat.
watch out!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Just wanted to stop in and give a shoutout to everyone here on the Wunderground blog. Really haven't had much opportunity to get back into the game here and return as an active member recently. Been working on doing my best in the six courses I have this semester, now have a girlfriend, and just recently been hired as a math tutor. I'll try my best to show up when we've got some action going on.

Just wanted to lend my input on the upcoming hurricane season. Right now, all the signs point towards a very active hurricane season. Given the weakening El Nino going towards a neutral ENSO by hurricane season, record SSTs for this time of year, and increased precipitation across the Sahel, things could be fittin to kick off early in the season. But all this means little right now as we have yet to see what general steering patterns will evolve for the upcoming season. Thats the most important factor that will determine the impact this upcoming season will have. All I can say right now to everyone is quoting the master Max Mayfield, "Prepare for the worst and hope for the best."
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
I doubt this EL Nino will fully be gone by June.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Nice job Chicklit your video beats Pat.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Chicklit:
El Nino weakens, Neutral conditions and then La Nina.


Yeah, like some people, they run hot and cold. LOL How you doing Chicklit?

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
El Nino weakens, Neutral conditions and then La Nina. It's all about timing. How torqued are conditions. Last year there was a lot of shear.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Levi32:


Sure go right ahead.


Thanks!
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Grothar:


What does it mean. El Niño is weakening already?

Are we getting philosophical?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting winter123:
Ului looks like it's gonna be a pretty decent hit... though sounds like all of Australia is lucking out this year... kind of like how the US lucked out last year.

Also of note is there is a storm trying to get going in the WPAC. Looks promising IMO, almost destined to be a fish too.



ABPW10 PGTW 190600

MSGID/GENADMIN/NAVMARFCSTCEN PEARL HARBOR HI/JTWC//

SUBJ/SIGNIFICANT TROPICAL WEATHER ADVISORY FOR THE WESTERN AND

/SOUTH PACIFIC OCEANS/190600Z-200600ZMAR2010//

REF/A/MSG/NAVMARFCSTCEN PEARL HARBOR HI/190151ZMAR2010//

AMPN/REF A IS A TROPICAL CYCLONE WARNING.//

RMKS/

1. WESTERN NORTH PACIFIC AREA (180 TO MALAY PENINSULA):

A. TROPICAL CYCLONE SUMMARY: NONE.

B. TROPICAL DISTURBANCE SUMMARY:

(1) THE AREA OF CONVECTION PREVIOUSLY LOCATED NEAR 4.4N

148.4E, IS NOW LOCATED NEAR 3.0N 155.1E, APPROXIMATELY 320 NM

SOUTHEAST OF CHUUK. ANIMATED MULTISPECTRAL SATELLITE IMAGERY SHOWS

CURVED BANDING AROUND A DEVELOPING LOW LEVEL CIRCULATION CENTER

(LLCC). UPPER LEVEL ANALYSIS INDICATES THE SYSTEM IS LOCATED BENEATH

DIFFLUENCE ALOFT AND IN AN AREA OF LOW VERTICAL WIND SHEAR. AN

OBSERVATION IN THE VICINITY IS REPORTING HIGH SEA SURFACE

TEMPERATURES (SST) OF 29 DEGREES CELSIUS, FAVORABLE FOR DEVELOPMENT.

MAXIMUM SUSTAINED SURFACE WINDS ARE ESTIMATED AT 15 TO 20 KNOTS.

MINIMUM SEA LEVEL PRESSURE IS ESTIMATED TO BE NEAR 1008 MB. DUE TO

UPPER LEVEL DIFFLUENCE AND HIGH SST, THE POTENTIAL FOR THE

DEVELOPMENT OF A SIGNIFICANT TROPICAL CYCLONE WITHIN THE NEXT 24

HOURS IS UPGRADED TO FAIR.

(2) NO OTHER SUSPECT AREAS.

2. SOUTH PACIFIC AREA (WEST COAST OF SOUTH AMERICA TO 135 EAST):

A. TROPICAL CYCLONE SUMMARY:

(1) AT 190000Z, TROPICAL CYCLONE 20P (ULUI) WAS LOCATED NEAR

16.5S 156.7E, APPROXIMATELY 630 NM EAST OF CAIRNS, AUSTRALIA, AND

HAD TRACKED SOUTHWESTWARD AT 06 KNOTS OVER THE PAST SIX HOURS.

MAXIMUM SUSTAINED SURFACE WINDS WERE ESTIMATED AT 65 KNOTS GUSTING

TO 80 KNOTS. SEE REF A (WTPS31 PGTW 190300) FOR FURTHER DETAILS.

(2) NO OTHER TROPICAL CYCLONES.

B. TROPICAL DISTURBANCE SUMMARY: NONE.//
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Grothar:


What does it mean. El Niño is weakening already?


I'm not sure what to make of his loop because it's not in the form of anomalies lol. Buoys in the area showed El Nino rebound with warming SSTs during late February and early March, but some of the stations appear to be coming down off their peak now.

TAO buoy data from February 1st to March 18th:

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
I know this sounds arrogant. But it is people like you that this country was built upon. Hurray Teddy Roosevelt, the more I read ,probably the greatest president of all time.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting upweatherdog:
Levi

Would you mind if I used the SST anomalie animation you made in comment 237 to use in my Spring forecast blog entry?

I will be sure to credit you for the loop.


Sure go right ahead.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting xcool:
Grothar yeah :)


What does it mean. El Niño is weakening already?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Levi

Would you mind if I used the SST anomalie animation you made in comment 237 to use in my Spring forecast blog entry?

I will be sure to credit you for the loop.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Friday night entertainment.
For a week of good living...Aimee Mann.
img src="" alt="" />
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
365. xcool
Grothar yeah :)
Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15626
Ului looks like it's gonna be a pretty decent hit... though sounds like all of Australia is lucking out this year... kind of like how the US lucked out last year.

Also of note is there is a storm trying to get going in the WPAC. Looks promising IMO, almost destined to be a fish too.


This also ties in with the thing about lower shear than normal in the SW atlantic. I always remember the thing joe bastardi said when I watched him, that the pattern in the WPAC is almost always comparable to the WATL.
Member Since: July 29, 2006 Posts: 28 Comments: 1777
Quoting gordydunnot:
Pat your last video gives me pause in the better to be dead than red debate.


Im grey with some white so I agree,but Im Irish too so I have a green eyed redhead thang..But the Helmet covers it all well.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 421 Comments: 127636
Pat your last video gives me pause in the better to be dead than red debate.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:

Viewing: 411 - 361

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24Blog Index

Top of Page

About

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

Local Weather

Mostly Cloudy
59 °F
Mostly Cloudy