WDAY: The News Leader

Published March 02, 2011, 10:18 AM

StormTRACKER Team: Can a major flood be avoided?

(WDAY TV) - This winter is already one of the top ten snowiest on record. Rivers are running high and the ground is saturated. Flooding this spring is nearly a certainty. How does this year compare to previous floods and can we avoid a major flood? Meteorologist Rob Kupec, along with the rest of our Stormtracker team, examines how that can happen.

Currently this winter is the 10th snowiest on record. However, only half of the other top 10 snowiest winters have led to a major flood of over thirty feet. While every flood is unique, in the years with heavy snows and no flood, the difference was avoiding heavy spring rains.

DARYL RITCHISON - Stormtracker Meteorologist: “Remember 1997, we had a weekend event where it rained 2 or 3 inches. That's the equivalent of 30 inches of snow in a weekend. That's the situation that would get us to the record and really make this a big fight.

The make up of the snow is also a factor. Right now we have 3.65 inches of water in our snowpack, which is about 1 inch more than we had at this time before the record flood of 2009 with about the same amount of snow on the ground. Of course that year we also had a very heavy rainfall that coincided with the melt.

In 2009 one of the big contributors to the flood was the amount of water coming out of the river systems on the North Dakota side. Water content in the Sheyenne and Wild rice basins was 4 to 6 inches. In 1997, there was similar water content in North Dakota, but this was dwarfed by the incredible water in Minnesota and the Lake Traverse area. This year water content is high in both North Dakota and Minnesota and further south in the Lake Traverse area the water content is running about 6 to 8 inches.

While a flood seems almost certain, one that sets a new high water mark may be avoidable.

JOHN WHEELER - Stormtracker Meteorologist: “Well there are a number of different things that could help. One would be obviously to stretch out the melting periods so that we don't get all the run off at once and have a nice slow melt. That would have to be a long period of time in March and early April where we have high temperatures above freezing, but it freezes up again at night and that would prolong the melt season and give us probably a longer, slower and slightly lower crest.”

DARYL RITCHISON - Stormtracker Meteorologist: “Personally I’ve always been a bigger fan of a big melt above freezing both day and night for a week, you get the flow going. Then it gets cold so the rivers are still flowing, so all the waters moving north. Then you have your second melt behind it.”

With our weather looking cold into the middle of March, we'll have to wait a little longer before we know how this spring’s melt is going to go. Since January we have done a pretty good job avoiding moisture. This February went down as one of the 10 driest on record.