Thursday, March 26, 2009


This week all the news has been floods. The Red River is rising up in Fargo/Moorehead and threatening cities and towns. My only previous association with the Red River was the movie by Howard Hawks starring Montgomery Clift and John Wayne. The Ottertail and other tributaries have been melting fast, but there's nowhere for the river to go. Here's the basic problem. The Red River flows north. That's right, north. So it flows into Canada. When there is a major early thaw, water hits the area to the north that is still frozen, and the water has nowhere to go. So it backs up and overspills its banks. It's worth going to Mapquest to see how crazy this river looks (click here). Scroll up so you get an idea of what happens to it as it moves north.

The last major flood was in 1997. It was a "century" flood, which I guess is why people rebuilt-- it wasn't supposed to come for another 100 years. They also, to their credit, built dikes and floodplains and various systems to mitigate floods. In 1997, the water crested at 39.5 feet. The prediction for the crest supposed to sweep through on Saturday is now at 41 feet or higher. The 1997 flood wiped out whole towns and devastated Grand Forks, ND. This one is seriously threatening Fargo.

This has been the main story all week, with schools closed in the north and all the students out sandbagging. Buses from this area have gone up to help. It's also been raining steadily all week. We had literally 48 hours of rain without a letup, which I can't say I've experienced for quite some time. Night and day. There are parts of St. Cloud that are flooded, including the restaurant Anton's right on the Sauk River and a neighborhood on one of the lakes. We've watched our ponds overflow and lift the docks, but none of our houses are in any danger.

Yesterday it turned very cold, and Fargo actually got snow. We had flurries yesterday and a little more substantial snow falling today, though being hurled away by the biting wind. I had to go out and walk the monastery property with a student who is going to make a map for us, and it was really wintry. I feel for the people of Fargo mostly for the misery of being out there.

And I've learned about sandbags that when they freeze they aren't as effective. The beauty of sandbags is that as they absorb water they change shape, like concrete, and fill in the gaps and seal together. If they're frozen, the chinks will remain and water can get through. This is called seepage.

Yesterday they called for the people of Fargo to raise their sandbag dikes another foot, and people have. The furniture is off the floor, and they've taken out the family photographs, and now we just wait and see what happens.

No comments: