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

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

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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.

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Quoting hydrus:
Congratulations on your teams successful season thus far.I am taking care of my Mom,Pop,dogs, guitar lessons and what ever else needs to be done. It seems that everybody is in general agreement that this hurricane season will be above average. what is you thinking at this time?



hmm yeah I think it will be above average as well, especially if La Nina or Neutral conditions develop in a timely manner
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1060. Levi32
New ECMWF operational model March forecasts are pretty much as nasty as the EUROSIP:

MSLP:



Precipitation:



SSTs:



Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26652
1059. Levi32
Quoting StormW:


Levi,
Can you hook me up with the site?


Here ya go
Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26652
1058. hydrus
Quoting tornadodude:


oh back to school after spring break last week :p

and excited for basketball, Purdue is in the sweet 16, and my high school I went to is playing for the state championship on saturday for basketball

whats new with you?
Congratulations on your teams successful season thus far.I am taking care of my Mom,Pop,dogs, guitar lessons and what ever else needs to be done. It seems that everybody is in general agreement that this hurricane season will be above average. what is you thinking at this time?
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1056. Levi32
New March ECMWF operational model nino plume forecast:



Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26652
1055. Levi32
Wow the new Japanese forecast really takes a dive into this La Nina quite fast:

June-July-August:





The forecast is still really wet for the Atlantic:

Member Since: November 24, 2005 Posts: 635 Comments: 26652
Quoting hydrus:
Hey T-Dude wuzup


oh back to school after spring break last week :p

and excited for basketball, Purdue is in the sweet 16, and my high school I went to is playing for the state championship on saturday for basketball

whats new with you?
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Quoting Tropicsweatherpr:
The latest Climate Prediction Center numbers of ENSO show no changes.

Nino 4= 1.1C
Nino3-4= 1.2C
Nino3= 0.7C
Nino=1-2=-0.1C






Very different
Member Since: August 11, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2315
1052. hydrus
Quoting tornadodude:


LOL

that was great

howdy all
Hey T-Dude wuzup
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Quoting NttyGrtty:
Some cats have better night vision than others. Yes, that's WAY off topic but since we seem to be discussing healthcare in here today, I thought what the heck, why not cat vision too.


LOL

that was great

howdy all
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1050. hydrus
Quoting Bordonaro:


Our winter has been the 8TH coldest winter on record. We have had the 2ND snowiest winter on record. We have been up to 75F, down to 32F in just the last 5 days.

I lived in New York City and Buffalo, NY. Last month, I felt like I was living in NYC all over again!!
I am hoping that the severe weather this spring will be minimal. We have had quite a bit of the rough stuff the past two years.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
The latest Climate Prediction Center numbers of ENSO show no changes.

Nino 4= 1.1C
Nino3-4= 1.2C
Nino3= 0.7C
Nino=1-2=-0.1C



Link
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Quoting wunderkidcayman:
Hi guys wish we had some thunderstorms with loads and loads of rain and some warn air

Be careful what you wish for...
Member Since: August 3, 2008 Posts: 16 Comments: 5883
Hi guys wish we had some thunderstorms with loads and loads of rain and some warn air
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Quoting Patrap:
Iron Man 2


IS GOING TO BE FLIPPING AWESOME!
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Quoting AussieStorm:

Good Morning


hey aussie!
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Quoting jeffs713:

I'm not female (and my fiancee is glad of that), but duly noted. I got a tad carried away. No more political posts on this blog from me.

Sowwy.

Thanks :-)! Much appreciated :-)
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Quoting Bordonaro:
Crazy TX Panhandle Weather!!



An upper level low pressure system will impact the Texas and
Oklahoma Panhandles Wednesday and Wednesday night. Snow is expected
to begin in the western Oklahoma Panhandle and the northwest Texas
Panhandle during the day Wednesday...spreading southeast during the
evening and night time hours. The western Oklahoma Panhandle and
the northwest Texas Panhandle will be the areas most favored for
heavier snowfall accumulations.

Don't like the weather? Wait 5 minutes, it will change.
Member Since: August 3, 2008 Posts: 16 Comments: 5883
Crazy TX Panhandle Weather!!



An upper level low pressure system will impact the Texas and
Oklahoma Panhandles Wednesday and Wednesday night. Snow is expected
to begin in the western Oklahoma Panhandle and the northwest Texas
Panhandle during the day Wednesday...spreading southeast during the
evening and night time hours. The western Oklahoma Panhandle and
the northwest Texas Panhandle will be the areas most favored for
heavier snowfall accumulations.
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Quoting NttyGrtty:
Think maybe you girls can take this discussion elsewhere?

I'm not female (and my fiancee is glad of that), but duly noted. I got a tad carried away. No more political posts on this blog from me.

Sowwy.
Member Since: August 3, 2008 Posts: 16 Comments: 5883
Quoting hydrus:
Yall have had a cold snowy winter. It has been windier than usual here. We had some gusts over 6o mph.


Our winter has been the 8TH coldest winter on record. We have had the 2ND snowiest winter on record. We have been up to 75F, down to 32F in just the last 5 days.

I lived in New York City and Buffalo, NY. Last month, I felt like I was living in NYC all over again!!
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Think maybe you girls can take this discussion elsewhere?
Member Since: February 11, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 836
1036. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
Mauritius Meteorological Services
Tropical Cyclone Advisory Number ONE
PERTURBATION TROPICALE 14-20092010
16:00 PM Réunion March 22 2010
===================================

At 12:00 PM UTC, Tropical Disturbance 14R (1000 hPa) located at 10.9S 89.9E has 10 minute sustained winds of 25 knots with gusts of 40 knots. The disturbance is reported as moving south at 4 knots.

Dvorak Intensity: 2.0/2.0/D1.0/24HRS

Forecast and Intensity
======================
12 HRS: 12.0S 89.4E - 30 knots (DEPRESSION TROPICALE)
24 HRS: 13.2S 88.3E - 40 knots (Tempête Tropicale Modereé)
48 HRS: 15.4S 86.3E - 60 knots (Forte Tempête Tropicale)
72 HRS: 18.6S 85.2E - 55 knots (Forte Tropicale Modereé)

Additional Information
========================
System displays a shear pattern with convection organizing in the western semi circle. Actually, easterly vertical wind shear limits its development. It slowly moves southwards. Over the next 3 days, southward then south southwestward track is expected and system should remain under upper level ridge with a weakening shear and rather good divergence. Low level inflows remain good polewards and should be better equatorwards. The system should continue to slowly intensify with this favorable conditions. Beyond 72 hrs, it is expected to reach latitude 20S with northwesterly shear constraint starting to impinge on the system which will also encounter cooler waters.
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1035. ozprof
Hi Aussie

My wife was telling me this morning about the storm in Perth. Sounds like it was a real doozy! She was saying that the sound of the hail on the roof was deafening. A couple of tiles were cracked, but fortunately no other damage to the house! She is also lucky in that she still has power.

Cheers
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1033. hydrus
Quoting Bordonaro:


Oh, that is OK!! We had 1.3" of snow, temps in the lower and mid 30's, NW winds from 25 to 40MPH here in the Dallas-Ft Worth, TX area, on Saturday evening into early Sunday morning.

You're right near the climate zone of the Midwest, we're 400 miles north of the sub-tropics.
Yall have had a cold snowy winter. It has been windier than usual here. We had some gusts over 6o mph.
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Quoting jeffs713:
For all those who are against healthcare reform...

drop your employer's health insurance, and go out and buy your own. See how expensive it is. Or better yet, go without insurance... hope you don't get hurt.


I agree, but regardless the working class is getting the short end of this deal.
Member Since: August 11, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2315
Quoting hcubed:


True, some states mandate car insurance, and some mortgage companies require insurance.

Still, people manage to drive and live without it.

But if you don't own a car, or if you're a renter, should you be FORCED to get insurance, under penalty of law?

The health insurance will be forced upon all living americans, under penalty of law, with fines and/or jail time for failure to have it.

And, in order to get the law passed, the other 49 states will be paying the bill for Nebraska's Medicare costs.

Expect a flurry of lawsuits from some states...


Food for thought! This is one of the few presidents we've had that kept their election campaign promises. However, we still have 9.7 % unemployment and a nation that is broken!!
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1028. hcubed
Quoting jeffs713:

Both are mandated by the government in some states. (Texas being one of those)

Next time you gripe about someone being an uninsured driver, think about it.


True, some states mandate car insurance, and some mortgage companies require insurance.

Still, people manage to drive and live without it.

But if you don't own a car, or if you're a renter, should you be FORCED to get insurance, under penalty of law?

The health insurance will be forced upon all living americans, under penalty of law, with fines and/or jail time for failure to have it.

And, in order to get the law passed, the other 49 states will be paying the bill for Nebraska's Medicare costs.

Expect a flurry of lawsuits from some states...
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting hydrus:
35 degrees and snowing on the Cumberland Plateau.


Oh, that is OK!! We had 1.3" of snow, temps in the lower and mid 30's, NW winds from 25 to 40MPH here in the Dallas-Ft Worth, TX area, on Saturday evening into early Sunday morning.

You're right near the climate zone of the Midwest, we're 400 miles north of the sub-tropics.
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Quoting hcubed:


Unfortunately, the other 5 percent will be forced to pay for it...


Most of the people in that 5% where already paying for it. Probably just going to get more expensive for the 5%. Seems like the other 95% is the only people benefiting from this law.
Member Since: August 11, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2315
1024. hcubed
Quoting doabarrelroll:


Lousy government. I hate they way they force me to put my kids in school, or sign a selective service sheet so that I may have to serve in the military, or pay taxes, or buy healthca... oops i guess this is nothing new. At least this time insurance will be available to 95 percent of this country.


Unfortunately, the other 5 percent will be forced to pay for it...
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1023. hydrus
Quoting Patrap:
Iron Man 2
35 degrees and snowing on the Cumberland Plateau.
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1022. Patrap
Iron Man 2
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128636
1021. hydrus
Quoting Patrap:
Tough weekend in Australia aussie..
Good Morning Patrap, what is that a picture of on your avatar?
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Speaking of off-topic, I dedicate my newest blog to all topics non-political in nature. All postings must have either entertainment or intellectual value. Enjoy!

The latest not-really-political blog

Oh, I may post some weather-related stuff onto there too. ;)
Member Since: August 3, 2008 Posts: 16 Comments: 5883
1019. Patrap
Tough weekend in Australia aussie..
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 426 Comments: 128636
Some cats have better night vision than others. Yes, that's WAY off topic but since we seem to be discussing healthcare in here today, I thought what the heck, why not cat vision too.
Member Since: February 11, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 836
Quoting WaterWitch11:
good morning everyone!

Good Morning
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good morning everyone!
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Perth reeling from freak storm



Homes have been damaged, power knocked out and hail the size of golf balls has fallen as a sudden storm swept across the Perth metropolitan area.

Dozens of sets of traffic lights have been knocked out by the storm and roads north and south of the city have been flooded.

There are widespread reports of property damage caused by rain, strong winds and hail.

Twenty people had to be evacuated from the emergency department at Joondalup Hospital in Perth's northern suburbs after parts of the ceiling caved in.

A spokesman for the hospital says there is significant flooding and damage to the ceiling.

The storm's trail of destruction extends from Joondalup down through the western suburbs and further south to Mandurah.

Flights into and out of Perth along with metropolitan train and bus services have been disrupted as a result of the storm.

Lightning knocked out Western Power's north-Perth sub station, causing widespread blackouts.

Western Power says more than 150-thousand properties are without power, and many will be without electricity overnight.

The utility's call centre has received an unprecedented number of calls and Western Power is asking people not to phone unless they see a power line on the ground or have a dangerous hazard to report.


More than 100 people had to be evacuated from an apartment block on Mounts Bay Road near King's Park in Perth's CBD after the storm caused a landslide.

It is understood the emergency services are still checking to see that all residents have been accounted for.

Those evacuated from their homes are being taken to a makeshift refuge facility at the Perth Convention Centre.

Several high schools in Perth's northern suburbs will not be open tomorrow because of extensive storm damage.

Ocean Reef Senior High School, Shenton College, Mindarie Senior College, Duncraig Senior High School, Tuart College and Heathridge Primary School will be closed tomorrow.

Students in years eight, nine and 10 at Perth Modern School are also being told to stay at home.

The Education Department says there is damage to about 70 per cent of classrooms at Ocean Reef High School.

The Bureau of Meteorology's Mount Lawley station has recorded more than 39 millimetres of rain since the storm hit, ending one of Perth's longest recorded dry spells.

The bureau's station at Swanbourne in Perth's western suburbs has recorded just over 48 millimetres.

Allen Gale from the Fire and Emergency Services Authority says it has so far received dozens of calls for calls for help, and expects plenty more as residents arrive home this evening.

He says the damage is widespread.

"A lot of traffic lights out of course and power lines across the metropolitan area," he said.

Andrew Burton from the Bureau of Meteorology says it is one of the biggest storms to hit Perth in years, with wind gusts of up to 120 kilometres an hour.

"Certainly thunderstorms of this strength and the kind of conditions that we've got in the atmosphere, we can get gusts out of this that can be strong enough to cause some damage."

The Bureau of Meteorology expects more storm activity into the night.


© ABC 2010
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Slow-moving flood disaster hits ... and it's spreading

# By Neil Keene
# From: The Daily Telegraph
# March 23, 2010



A WALL of water surging through north-western NSW has prompted authorities to declare the region a natural disaster zone.

Floods from the deluge in Queensland about three weeks ago are making their slow journey south, inundating enormous tracts of land.

About 120 NSW properties have been isolated and the outback towns of Goodooga and Wanaaring have been evacuated from their homes.

But there is an upside to the floods.

In many places the water has delivered almost instant new life. Kilometres of grass grow where just months ago there was only the dry, red dust of a parched outback.

Bourke Mayor Andrew Lewis said floods in Queensland and 450mm of local rain this year had delivered the biggest deluge in more than 30 years.

Bureau of Meteorology senior hydrologist Hugh Bruist said the lay of the land meant the floodwater was moving extremely slowly.

Start of sidebar. Skip to end of sidebar.

End of sidebar. Return to start of sidebar.

It could be as late as mid-May before it eventually creeps beyond Bourke to Wilcannia, about 300km to the southwest.
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Good Morning everybody! Well after a start at 37F this morning, we're headed up to 68F.

That's alot better than the 30's and snow of Saturday evening!!
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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.