North Dakota’s ‘wettest’ winter in 100 years has Red River Valley flood watchers on edge

Click to play video: 'North Dakota snow has Red River Valley flood watchers on edge'
North Dakota snow has Red River Valley flood watchers on edge
North Dakota meteorologist Greg Gust speaks to Global News about the notably high volume of precipitation the state has seen so far this winter – Dec 30, 2019

Manitoba meteorologists are paying attention to weather conditions south of the border due to flooding concerns, as a meteorologist in North Dakota says the state is experiencing a notably high volume of precipitation this winter.

The roads were closed in North Dakota on Sunday and into Monday as a Colorado low blew through the southern Red River basin, bringing more snow amid the state’s wettest winter in 100 years.

North Dakota meteorologist Greg Gust told 680 CJOB on Monday that the latest system has gone from a blizzard to a winter storm.

We’ve cut down the blizzard warning out of the main quarter of the Red River Valley,” said Gust, who is with the U.S. National Weather Service.

“There’s still some pretty strong winds and there’s still a little blowing and drifting on these roads, too, because the winds are just down below blizzard criteria.”

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The Red River basin includes numerous tributaries in the United States that all flow into the Red River and up to Manitoba. While a flood in states like North Dakota or Minnesota doesn’t guarantee a flood in Manitoba, it is a large risk factor for flooding on the Canadian side of the Red River Valley.


Meanwhile, in southern Manitoba, between five and 10 centimetres of snow fell overnight and will continue to track into northern Ontario, with winds gusting up to 40 kilometres per hour in some areas, according to Environment Canada.

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No highways were closed on Monday, although many were partly snow-covered. In Winnipeg, snowplows were in operation overnight, and while streets were slippery, there were no major delays as of 8 a.m.

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Gust said that like Winnipeg, most of the snow where he’s located in Grand Forks, N.D., tends to track south of the city, but this year has been different.

“We had the big snow that came in first,” he said.

“So a lot of areas got (a) good, healthy six inches (15 centimetres) or more to begin with before the wind really kicked in.

Both Fargo and Grand Forks, N.D., are dealing with about 30 centimetres of snow, and Devil’s Lake is dealing with about 45 centimetres, said Gust.

Throw in the wind with more snow on top, and it was a full-on, raging blizzard with the heavy snow coming in concurrent with those 35- to 50-mile-an-hour winds that we were seeing.”

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The latest system means records are being broken, said Gust.

“From what I can see in the last 100 years or so, this is the wettest, the highest volume of precipitation we’ve had during this time period,” he said.

“And if you go back this whole calendar year from Jan. 1 till now … Grand Forks has certainly broken the wettest year on record.”

Other cities in the area, like Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., are also coming up on records, he added.

Southern Manitoba’s precipitation levels are also high, with a severe snowstorm in early October that damaged tens of thousands of trees and left some parts of southern Manitoba without power for two weeks.

Manitoba operated the Red River Floodway in October, the first time it’s ever been used to divert water in the fall.

Click to play video: 'Floodway 101 – How does the Red River Floodway work, anyway?'
Floodway 101 – How does the Red River Floodway work, anyway?

“It is not very practical or feasible to provide a long-term flood forecast for spring 2020 as conditions could change significantly during the coming months,” said the Manitoba Hydrologic Forecast Centre in its latest report.

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“Above normal to well above normal soil moisture conditions, and above normal to well above normal base flow and lake water level conditions indicate a higher risk of major spring flooding in those areas.

“However, with less winter or spring precipitation, or if a slow snowmelt rate were to occur, the risk of major spring flooding would decrease.”

While it’s much too early to say whether the Red River basin will flood, watchers are keeping an eye on things.

I’ll look forward to talking with you through the upcoming months here,” said Gust.

Read the province’s latest flood forecast here:

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