Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Red River Valley of the North Flood, 2009: April 1: News Added As I find It

6:50 p.m.
The Red River Valley of the North flood has reminded quite a few people of recent hurricanes. Journalists like to make comparisons to the problems facing New Orlean's mayor and the Louisiana governor, when Katrina didn't change course.

There are differences, of course, between Fargo-Moorhead and New Orleans. Louisiana, around New Orleans, is a bit more densely populated than Fargo-Moorhead and the rest of the Red River Valley of the North. And New Orleans is near the mouth of the Mississippi, while Fargo-Moorhead are a bit beyond the head of that river. The climate of the upper Midwest is not quite the same as southern Loisiana's, either.

"Fargo resisted FEMA recommendation to evacuate"
The Associated Press (April 1, 2009) (1 hour ago)

"FARGO, N.D. (AP) — With floodwaters rising around them, Fargo officials and the Federal Emergency Management Agency faced an agonizing decision: Should they order a mandatory evacuation of the entire city?

"FEMA thought the best course of action was to evacuate and not leave anything to chance. Fargo officials disagreed, saying they knew what it would take to hold back the Red River. The conversation turned heated at times, and Fargo ultimately won.

"Now that the Red River is receding and leaving only relatively minor damage, that decision looks smart. The city began returning to normal Wednesday as people went back to work, stores reopened and the river dipped to only slightly above 37 feet...."

Bottom Line: Fargo-Moorhead isn't New Orleans

I grew up in that city, and about the last thing I'd want to do, this time of year, would be trying to move upwards of 170,000 people over a partially-flooded road system. This is a season where unexpected, severe, storms, like the one we had a few days ago, are not at all uncommon.

I sympathize with the FEMA people: I suppose they learned something from New Orleans and Katrina. But, Fargo isn't New Orleans. We've got our share of people who try to drive over a levee, or play bumper-car with a sheriff's vehicle: but for the most part we're able to measure how high existing dikes are, compare that with flood crest forecasts, and place enough sandbags.

Or, hypothetically, realize that there wasn't enough sand, time, or people.

Maybe the leadership of Fargo and Moorhead was "lucky." I think it was more a matter of having local and state authorities who were able - and willing - to look at the facts. And, after evaluating the situation, were able - and willing - to make a decision.

Finally, I'm not sure that FEMA officials realize that there weren't all that many places to evacuate to in the Red River Valley of the North. That's a photo of Hillsboro, North Dakota: about 45 miles north of Fargo. It was taken about a year ago, and shows the last field outside the town, with Hillsboro on the horizon. The place has gotten a lot more built up than I remember from my childhood, but you get the idea.
12:40 p.m.
"Fargo businesses reopen as swollen river subsides"
The Associated Press (April 1, 2009) (1 hour ago)

"FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Businesses reopened and commuter traffic returned Wednesday as the bloated Red River fell below the sandbags and the top of the permanent floodwalls protecting Fargo, feeding optimism the city had escaped a disastrous flood.

Under a cloudy but mostly dry sky, roads reopened, people returned to work and officials began scaling back their flood response. Officials said schools would reopen Monday.

"Our word for the day is restore and recharge," Mayor Dennis Walaker said....

People are not, as a rule, happy to experience rush hour traffic.

I get the impression that it's different in Fargo today. According to the AP, city commissioner Tim Mahoney said, "I had to fight traffic to get to work today," which, in context, might have been said in a tone generally reserved for "I won the office pool."
12:30 p.m.
NOAA Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service (April 1, 2009) (1 1/4 hours ago)

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

At 11:15 a.m., CTD, The Red River of the north was 38.11 feet.

And still falling.

The crest, at 40.82 feet, came late Friday: and the meteorologists say that even the 10 inches of snow that fell in the area won't push waters back up to the crest level, once it melts.
11:00 a.m.
"Red River drops more, feeding optimism in Fargo"
The Associated Press (April 1, 2009)

"FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Flood waters have fallen below most of the sandbag levees protecting Fargo, feeding optimism that the city had tamed the Red River, at least for now.

"By early Wednesday, the river had fallen to 37.37 feet — still far above flood stage but below the top of the city's permanent floodwalls, which are topped with another 5 feet of sandbags.

" 'This should give us a sigh of relief,' Mayor Dennis Walaker said.

"City officials said businesses would be allowed to reopen Wednesday morning...."

Good news, pretty much. Fargo got about 10 inches of snow in yesterday's storm, but at this point it's so cold that the snow isn't melting as fast as it usually would.

The AP story seemed impressed that city snowplows were out, "despite having hardly any visibility" - that's why we generally have strict 'snow emergency routes' in towns and cities around here. If you leave your vehicle where a plow driver expects nothing but snow and ice, well: the emergency routes are marked.

Here in Sauk Centre, we didn't get nearly that much snow, but the plows were out anyway, late last night.

Nobody Killed - Remarkable, in a Way

The AP story reports that roads were icy - and implies that's why a car driven by a teen hit a sheriff's car, and nearly went into the water. More:
  • A woman tried to drive over a levee and got stuck - probably saving her life
    • She was charged with drunk driving
  • Some guy was arrested for driving a snowmobile
    • On a dike
  • And "one brave soul was caught paddling a canoe up the river"
I don't quite see the problem with that last one: the wake of a canoe isn't that high, and the practical danger of boating near a dam must be minimal, when the closest the dam will be is something like 20 feet - straight down.
List of posts about this flood:


legbamel said...

The danger of the canoer was not the wake but to the person in the canoe and to rescue personnel who might have to go in after him. With the current so fast and the bridge clearance at almost nil, he could easily have been swept into something (like one of the hundreds of submerged trees) and knocked out of the canoe into 34-degree water.

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...


The bridges: of course! Good point. I figured that safety of the canoer must be the reason.

I hadn't realized that the the river was running (at normal speed or above?).

Thanks for the reality check - and for your observations. Please: comment any time. I'm relying on the information system that turned two flooded buildings at Oak Grove high school into a swamped campus at one of Fargo's universities.

legbamel said...

Part of the reason for the "university" flooding was that the permanent levee was worn away from beneath by the greatly increased flow. Take a look at the right side of that graph you posted - it's got the flow numbers right on it. :) We're down to 36.5 this morning, but if it warms up we'll be going back up for a bit. I can only hope that we don't go up as much.

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...


Good point: those are important numbers.

Still, The Australian made reference to 'one of' Fargo's universities: NDSU is the only one that's listed, and the only one I remember. And, that university is, apparently, damp but unflooded.

Unless the NDSU campus did go under?

And, I do have a sort of sympathy for reporters and editors: They've got deadlines, and may not have time to look up facts. I'm not convinced that many of them know how to use the Internet effectively.

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...


Dang. Forgot: Thanks!

And I hope you continue to drop comments. Someone on the ground, on site, sees and notices (two very distinct things) what someone who may never have been to North America might not.

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