Saturday, March 28, 2009

Red River Valley of the North Flood, 2009: March 28: News Added As I find It

9:00 p.m. Central

Stress, Forecasts, Limits of NOAA's Authority, and Looking Beyond Fargo

"Receding ND river puts pressure on forecasters"
The Associated Press (March 28, 2009) (2 hours ago)

"FARGO, N.D. (AP) — An updated National Weather Service statement that said the Red River apparently crested lower than expected and a day early was good news for leaders of flood-braced Fargo. But it was exasperating, too.

"Over the course of a week, they and the city's 92,000 residents have endured an emotional roller coaster of river forecasts that ultimately predicted a recording-breaking crest up to 43 feet. Then the weather service announced that the Red crested at 40.82 feet midnight Saturday and was beginning to recede...."

So far, so good: then evidence that people handle stress in different ways.

"..."I call it waterboarding, the Red River of the North style," City Administrator Pat Zavoral said Saturday at a briefing after the crest was announced.

"Gauging the crest of any river is a tough business, forecasters say. And when the river is at an all-time high, like the Red River is at Fargo, it's even harder. The weather service said as much Saturday, warning the Red could rise again and that 'the river will continue to behave in ways never before seen.'

"The forecaster delivering the warnings saw firsthand, in his hometown 12 years ago, the crucial importance of making sure a community is ready for devastating flooding...."

With respect to people with jobs that are stressful at best, who have gone through a week like the one that's wrapping up now, but " 'waterboarding, the Red River of the North style' "?! At least he didn't threaten to sue NOAA for lack of omniscience. I shouldn't joke. Someone's likely to try it.

Fargo's leadership seems to be fairly level-headed, though. No small feat in a crisis like this.

"...Mayor Dennis Walaker reacted with disbelief at the new forecast. On Saturday, he publicly apologized for being critical of the weather service, but made plain the stakes: 'Every foot means so much,' he said...."

Kudos to the reporter and editors who handled this AP story. They showed the reader that forecasters are human beings. Like Greg Gust. He had very personal experience with what floods can do. And, how important it is to be as accurate as possible.

"...'I think I'm in a role to do my darnedest to do everything you can to make sure that does not happen here,' said Gust, who wasn't part of the 1997 projections...."

"...'There's crying alert and there's crying wolf,' Gust said. 'There's a very big difference.'..."
NOAA Doesn't Actually Administer the Wind and Wave
NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, doesn't actually administer the oceans and atmosphere of Earth.
And it's Probably Just as Well
I remember, back in 1972, when it looked like we'd be controlling weather soon: not in the next few years, but in a decade or so. Then, researchers seeded a cloud, upwind of the Black Hills of South Dakota. For the next six hours, about a foot of rain fell, on the Black Hills. The body count was about 250.

Enthusiasm for weather control in general and cloud seeding in particular flagged a trifle after the Rapid City Flood.
Fargo has Flood Troubles
But, so do Fargo's suburbs, Moorhead, and quite a few other places in the Red River Valley of the North. This article, like so many, mentions Fargo's population: 92,000, in this case.

Fargo is important. It's the biggest unit in the Fargo-Moorhead Fargo's population is around 94,000 (U.S. Census Bureau). The U.S. Census figured the Fargo-Moorhead Metropolitan area had about 170,000 people in 1999 - and I understand that it's grown since then.

The point is that, as interesting and important as Fargo is, it's not the whole city, there in Red River Valley of the North. And, there are lesser towns up and down the Valley: from Oxbow to Grand Forks and East Grand Forks.

I know that, the people who live there know that: and I think it would be nice if news services would make it a little easier for people who don't live in the upper Midwest know that, too.

Don't get me wrong: Fargoans are having a rough time, right now. No question about that. But, they've got lots of company.
8:25 p.m. Central
"Flooding forces Fargo wedding party to improvise"
The Associated Press (March 28, 2009) (6 hours ago)

"FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Not even a record flood can stop love."

"Nathan and Brittany Aakre had First Assembly of God Church lined up nine months ago for their wedding Saturday, with 530 people on the invitation list.

"Then the Red River rose toward a record flood crest and the church was turned into a sandbag-making center...."

The short version of the story is that the young couple got married and went to a honeymoon east of the Red River Valley. One of the people involved said, "It's been a very hectic week," which seems a bit of an understatement.

'And the moral of this story is' - flood or no, life happens.

1:25 p.m. Central
"Part of ND under blizzard watch"
WDAY (March 28, 2009) (3 hours ago)

"BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Southwest and south central North Dakota, which have been hit by recent flooding, are under a blizzard watch for Sunday afternoon through Monday night.

"The National Weather Service says there's a chance of 'significant' snowfall along Interstate 94, including in Dickinson and Bismarck...."

They say it shouldn't affect flooding in the Red River Valley - not right away, at least. As for central North Dakota: people there are used to this sort of thing. (North Dakota and Minnesota aren't for everyone. See "Minus 40 Keeps the Riff-Raff Out.")

Still - a blizzard, right now, isn't all that convenient.
1:10 p.m. Central
(March 28, 2009) (4 1/2 hours ago)
"Richland County Officials Report Flood Rescues"
WCCO (March 28, 2009) (4 1/2 hours ago)

"WAHPETON, N.D. (AP) Crews have been using boats and helicopters to rescue families from floodwaters in Richland County.

"Wahpeton Fire Department members say they used a boat to bring four children from a farm home surrounded by water near Galchutt at the request of their parents, and brought the children to Wahpeton. The parents decided to stay at the farm.

"The Coast Guard helped airlift five adults and a child Wednesday from a flooded farm near Abercrombie. ..."

Just a reminder that there are a whole lot of people in the Red River Valley of the North who aren't living in Fargo-Moorhead - and they're experiencing the river up close and personal, too.

There's a pretty heavy military presence in the Valley these days. Can't say I'm sorry about that.

"Fargo schools cancel classes next week"
WDAY (March 28, 2009) (10 hours ago)

"Fargo, N.D. (AP) Fargo public schools have canceled classes for next week to allow students to help with the flood fight.

"Fargo students have been helping sandbag this week.

"The School District also has given permission for the city to dig up Soccer fields at Centennial elementary school so the dirt could be used to build dikes to protect southside neighborhoods."

"Information from: KFGO-AM, (Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APNP 03-28-09 0138CDT"

The word "community" isn't in this article: but the idea's in every paragraph.

1:10 p.m. Central
"Interstate 94 eastbound lanes from Jamestown to Fargo are reopened, I-29 now open"
WDAY (March 28, 2009)

"Bismarck, ND - I-94 east bound lanes will be reopened immediately. We will monitor traffic volumes and changes may be necessary if traffic flows change or if evacuations are necessary due to flooding in Fargo. The lanes were initially closed in preparation for and to facilitate potential evacuations in the Fargo-Moorhead area...."

I'd been wondering about the Interstate system in the Valley.
12:55 p.m. Central
"Fargo gets good news in new flood forecast"
The Associated Press (March 28, 2009) (25 minutes ago)

"FARGO, N.D. (AP) — The National Weather Service gave weary Fargo residents a dose of good news Saturday, saying the flood outlook for the Red River seems to be improving and may not be as dire as originally expected.

"Despite the forecast revision, North Dakota officials still intensified their efforts to fend off the floodwaters, deploying high-tech Predator drone aircraft, calling up more National Guard troops and asking residents to be on the lookout for any breaches in levees.

"Mike Hudson of the weather service said the Red River may already have crested around midnight at 40.82 feet. As of 8 a.m. it had dropped to around 40.69 feet. But the river can still fluctuate up to a foot, given that ice floes affect the flow of the river and could leading to periodic rises...."

Even with fluctuations, it's still good news. A foot up from 40 feet is lower than a foot up from 41 feet.

What isn't mentioned very often in the news is how flat the Red River Valley of the North is. This morning, someone on the Weather Channel brought that up: along with a way that people have used to explain to outsiders what it's like here, for decades.

Take a glass of water, and pour it on the top of a flat, hard-surfaced table. Watch what happens to the water. That's what a flood in the Red River Valley of the North is often like. It's not perfectly flat, of course. Many places, the land rises a foot for every thousand horizontal feet. Go five miles, and you might be five feet higher or lower than you were when you started.
12:30 p.m. Central

"We Want to Go Down Swinging If We Go Down"

NOAA Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service (March 28, 2009) (1 1/4 hours ago)

At 1:15 a.m., CTD, The Red River of the north was 40.68 feet.

And, apparently, falling.

Earlier today, it had been at 40.82 feet.

(from NOAA Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service, used w/o permission)

This is, obviously, good news: a much better outlook than yesterday's. Looks like the cold weather is helping: both by making the sandbags stiff, once they're in place, and by slowing down the snow melt.

Yesterday's and Today's NOAA predictions for water level:

March 27, 2009, 8:15 p.m.
March 28, 2009, 11:15 a.m.
The NOAA page displaying these charts tells us: "NOTE: Forecasts for the Red River of the North at Fargo are issued as needed during times of high water, but are not routinely available."
Fargo-related posts: List of posts about this flood:

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