Friday afternoon, the Red River of the North reached unprecedented flood levels in Fargo, North Dakota, twenty-four hours before it is expected to crest. Last night, President Obama added “seven northwest Minnesota counties” to the federal emergency already declared in North Dakota as “Fargo and Moorhead teeter on the brink of disaster” from this “historic flood.” The Red River has been in flood in Fargo since last Saturday. The United States Geological Survey river gage at Fargo — which has continuous flow data since 1902 — recorded new records in both streamflow (28,900 cubic feet per second) and height (40 3/4 feet) at 4:15 PM EST. Enough water is flowing through the Red River right now to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool every three seconds, 48 times the normal rate:
This is the eighth “ten-year flood” of Fargo since 1989, with streamflow greater than 10,300 cfs. That is to say:
In the last twenty years, Red River floods expected to occur at Fargo only once every ten years have happened every two to three years. 2009 is the third year in a row with at least a “ten-year flood.” In the 90 years before 1990, there were only eight ten-year floods.
The standard for a hundred-year flood of the Red River of the North at Fargo set by the Army Corps of Engineers in 2001 is 29,300 cfs, a discharge rate never yet recorded.
A key consequence of global warming predicted by climate scientists is an increase in overall precipitation as well as extreme precipitation events, leading to increased flooding. As President Obama warned on Monday:
If you look at the flooding that’s going on right now in North Dakota, and you say to yourself, “If you see an increase of 2 degrees, what does that do, in terms of the situation there,” that indicates the degree to which we have to take this seriously.
In his weekly address, President Obama “stated his continued support for the people of Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota and praised the volunteers who have come together to help one another”:
,In a Discovery video, USGS hydrologist Bob Holmes, Ph.D. explains the importance of stream gages and how USGS and the National Weather Service work together in flood prediction. Funding cuts are threatening the national stream gage network.