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Published November 24, 2010, 12:08 PM

WDAY StormTracker Team takes a look at our current wet cycle

Serious flooding in the Red River Valley is now an almost annual event. Four of the top six highest crests on the Red River have happened in the last 13 years. How can we go from a drought to historic floods? Our WDAY-6 StormTracker team of meteorologists takes a look at the Wet Cycle.

(WDAY TV) - 22-years ago, our region was parched bone dry. The summer of 1988 was the driest since the Dust Bowl, but drought seems like ancient history to us now. Serious flooding in the Red River Valley is now an almost annual event. Four of the top six highest crests on the Red River have happened in the last 13 years. How can we go from a drought to historic floods? Our WDAY-6 StormTracker team of meteorologists takes a look at the Wet Cycle.

From record flood of 1997 in Grand Forks to the record flood of 2009 in Fargo. The water just keeps getting higher. We can dike it or divert it, but we cannot make the danger of flooding go away.

Some blame the farmers for draining their land too quickly. Some blame the dikes and diversions for speeding up the water in the channel. Some say there has been too much building near the rivers. And while there is no doubt that these are all contributing factors, they are overshadowed by one fact.

We are getting a lot more precipitation than we used to. Average precipitation prior to 1993 was about 19 and a half inches a year. Since then it is about 24 inches a year. That is a 25% increase in water and so year after year the ditches, the sloughs, and the reservoirs never get a chance to dry out.

Devils Lake has always been the poster child for this wet cycle. It’s also the best example as to how quickly the wet cycle hit us. We have to remember that back in 1992, there was strong political pressure to try to get water into Devils Lake and by 1996 there was strong political pressure to get water out of Devils Lake and that fight has continued to this day.

So why has our climate suddenly become so wet? No one knows for sure.

Since 1993 there have been several years of drought in western North Dakota and up until this year, eastern Minnesota, including the Twin Cities, has experienced dry weather. But the Red River Valley and the Devils Lake Basin have been in this wet cycle consistently for 17 years. As a climate anomaly, this wet cycle is just as extreme and longer lasting than was the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. And we just don't know enough about how the climate changes to be able to say why this is happening or to predict when it will stop.

Some day the droughts will come back and our problem will be not enough water. But for now, too much water is the issue. Once again as winter begins, the Red and its tributaries are bank full. Soil moisture is high. So are we in for another round of spring flooding? We can't say for sure as it depends on the weather this winter and spring. But until this wet cycle breaks, we will remain at a high risk for flooding every year.

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