Major flooding is certain along the Red River where North Dakota and Minnesota residents are amassing sandbags to hold back what may be record crests, a National Weather Service meteorologist said on Thursday.
The weather service saw no improvement in conditions along the Red River from a report issued three weeks ago, and increased slightly the expected peak flooding levels for Fargo, N.D., and other communities in the river valley.
"For certain we are going to have major flooding on the Red River," said Dan Luna, meteorologist-in-charge at the National Weather Service in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
"The question this year on the Red River is will we exceed the levels we saw last year and maybe more importantly what is the potential to break the records up there," Luna said.
The Red River reached a record crest of nearly 41 feet in Fargo in 2009 and at 54.35 feet in 1997 further downstream at Grand Forks. There is a better than 50 percent chance that the river crests at over 51 feet in the Grand Forks area, the National Weather Service said.
The impact from potentially record floods may be eased somewhat by steps to remove homes and other structures from flood-prone areas over the last 15 years, officials said.
Luna said there was a "fairly significant" chance of up to 20 percent for record flows in the Red River valley, but added that there was potential for flooding all across the region.
"We are expecting serious flooding through much of Minnesota this coming spring," Luna said. "In fact, no river is considered immune this year from flooding."
The peak flooding is expected to take place sometime from the last two weeks of March through the first half of April.
The Red River and Minnesota River valleys are expected to shoulder the worst of the flooding, but the Mississippi River downstream from Minneapolis also is at risk.
Upper Midwest temperatures have warmed to the 50s in recent days from a deep freeze and one of the snowiest years in decades, leaving residents in Fargo, North Dakota, and across the Red River in Moorhead, Minnesota, launching sandbagging operations to hold back the potentially record flood waters.
Fargo expects to fill more than 3 million sandbags, while neighboring Moorhead has outsourced a sandbagging operation to reinforce its flood protection.
Minnesota emergency management officials told residents to brace for flooding across the state and take out insurance where necessary. Flooding is almost certain to close highway bridges near the Twin Cities.