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Meteorologist Greg Gust of the National Weather Service talks about flood forecast models during a public flood briefing at Fargo City Hall on Monday, March 25. David Samson / The Forum

Flood forecast: Red River not expected to start flowing free this week; mid-April crest still predicted

FARGO — The Red River, still ice-covered in stretches, likely won’t fully break open here this week as freezing temperatures continue to delay a spring thaw that has the potential to cause flooding, a National Weather Service meteorologist said.

Fargo could see warmer temperatures by midweek, from a Monday high of 35 to almost 50 degrees Wednesday, the weather service said. Lows may begin to rise above freezing, according to the forecast.

But the thermometer is set to fall back below 32 degrees by Friday, shutting down chances the Red River will open up, weather service meteorologist Greg Gust told local and state leaders who met Monday, March 25, at Fargo City Hall for a flood meeting.

“We’re slowly working that water in, slowly working things loose, but it is not yet pushing that,” he said.

Fargo and Cass County leaders hosted an array of local and state officials, including law enforcement and the North Dakota National Guard, in a roundtable-style meeting to discuss how each entity and department was preparing for a potential flood in the coming weeks. Both the county and city will start sandbagging operations this week in anticipation of flooding.

Tributaries are starting to melt and move into the Red, Gust said. At Wahpeton, N.D., water from other sources is moving into the main river, causing it to rise, he said.

But the Red needs 60 to 100 hours of above-freezing temperatures to fully break open. Projections peg the river reaching its crest in mid-April, and it almost certainly will surpass the major flood level of 30 feet, according to the weather service.

Fargo is preparing for the 10-percent likelihood the Red will hit 40.3 feet, just below the 2009 record crest of 40.8 feet, City Administrator Bruce Grubb said. There is a 5 percent chance the river could break the record.

“If the flood forecast drops, it’s far easier to ramp down than it is to try to ramp up when suddenly time is your enemy as well,” he said.

Fargo plans to start filling sandbags Tuesday, March 26, with the goal of producing a million bags. Cass County, which will face overland flooding from multiple tributaries and runoff, plans to fill 300,000 bags starting Wednesday.

Cass County officials wanted to make it clear there are two sandbagging operations — the city will fill bags at Sandbag Central, 2301 8th Ave. N. in Fargo, and the county will host its operations at its highway department, 1201 Main Ave. W. in West Fargo.

The city’s Sandbag Central will run 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, starting Tuesday and ending when it reaches its goal. Fargo leaders anticipate that will take 10 days.

Cass County will run its operations 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays; and noon to 7 p.m. Sundays.

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