Dirty Snow and Warm Temps Aid Red River Valley Snowmelt

By Dave Kolpack | March 23, 2022

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Any fears of an extended spring flooding season in the Red River Valley have been virtually eliminated thanks in large part to the soil-stained snow that helped absorb warmth from the sun, the National Weather Service said Monday in an updated briefing.

It was a strange benefit of two unwelcome weather woes — a summer drought followed by a winter season of numerous blizzards. The lack of precipitation made the topsoil receptive to the spring thaw and the gales of winter picked up loose dirt to color the snow and make it absorb more heat than usual.

“We really think that the snow being dark with plenty of sun and warm temperatures in the last week or so caused the snowpack to disappear really, really quickly,” weather service meteorologist Amanda Lee said. “As everybody knows, the melt is well underway and it’s been fast and furious for the most part.”

The weather service doesn’t measure dirt in the snow but does note it in its reports, Lee said.

The Red River Basin technically begins in Lake Traverse, South Dakota, and ends at Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba. At this point, Lee said, it appears that no areas of the flood-prone valley are facing major threats of high water and there a few signs of overland flooding. The amount of water in the southern part of the basin making its way to the northward-flowing river is slowing down, Lee said.

This week is trending toward continued favorable melting conditions, with limited precipitation and temperatures in the 40s and 50s during the day and below freezing at night.

“Things are looking pretty nice right now,” Lee said. “I don’t know of anyone complaining on how this spring is going so far. It was a long, long winter.”

In the Fargo and Moorhead, Minnesota, area, where years of battling floods persuaded area leaders to successfully lobby for a diversion project that’s under construction, the weather service has predicted a crest of 29.5 feet in about a week. That’s would be nearly 12 feet over flood stage, but unlikely to cause much disruption.

Fargo officials on Monday closed two blocks of Elm Street North, a low spot located within 70 feet of the river that is often shut down by heavy rain. The street also runs by one of the city’s golf courses, which might open earlier than usual thanks to the benign snowmelt.

“That’s what I thought when I went over to Elm Street today,” said Paul Fiechtner, the city’s public works services manager whose springs are generally more hectic. “We should go golfing.”

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