You Think You Have Problems?

In North Dakota, at least in my lifetime, all flooding west of the Red River is compared to the Great Flood of 1969.  That year, pretty much every major town in the state – Fargo, Grand Forks, Jamestown, Minot, Bismarck – was inundated with runoff from record snow and rain falls.  It was the standard by which all subsequent floods – 1981, 1997, and the past couple of years along the Red, Missouri and James – have been measured.

And none of those floods, not even 1969, holds a candle to what’s projected for Minot – where my mother, incidentally, lives, although thankfully on very high ground – and other communities along the Souris River in coming weeks.

The highest flows ever recorded on the Souris are approaching a city whose defenses are destined to be over run. Can the city hold?

Dikes currently in place, recently improved greatly to combat high flows, are now expected to disappear under the traveling torrent. The amount of water flowing with a vengeance down the Souris River Valley is forecast to inundate Minot to a level seven to eight feet higher than the catastrophic and benchmark flood of 1969.

Picture a flood eight feet higher than the highest flooding ever recorded in your riverfront town.  Eight feet.

Saddened with that horrific knowledge, officials announced during a late afternoon press conference Monday that very little can be done to stop the powerful onslaught. Massive secondary dikes that were built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to save much of the town from the previous high on the Souris this year fall far short of defending against the impending and rapid rise of the Souris.

My mom’s house is already crowded with refugees from the earlier flooding.  It’s going to get worse:

Mandatory evacuations were ordered Monday for all evacuation zones within Minot. Mayor Curt Zimbelman said all affected residents and businesses must vacate those areas no later than 10 p.m. Wednesday. Within minutes of the announcement residents once again began the laborious and hastened work of moving out of their homes for the second time this year.

“It’s a sad day in Minot,” Zimbelman said at the end of a press conference Monday.

Although Minot was always Jamestown’s hereditary sports rival – cake-eating bastards that they were –  my prayers do go out to them.  This sounds just awful, with water flows triple that of this spring’s already-bad floods:

“It’s pretty easy to get to 23,000 cfs, which is bearing down on Sherwood as we speak,” said Alan Schlag, Monday. Schlag is a hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Bismarck.

For comparison purposes, the previous peak flow at Sherwood this year, one which caused great concern at all points downstream, was a mere 8,860 cfs.

“Basically, Canada is pouring the coals to releases from dams. Rafferty is wide open, Alameda upped to 1,800 Monday and Boundary was at about 5,000 cfs,” said Schlag.

How bad is it?  Bad enough to get a roomful of North Dakotans – classic Scandinavian and German passive-aggressives (I can say that, I’m one of ’em) who let loose in full pent-up fury that’d shame a roomful of big-haired Long-Island Italans when dealing with government at any level – to sit down in a daze:

The crowd at Monday’s City Hall press conference sat in stunned silence, followed by a few brief murmurs, when it was revealed that releases into the Souris from Lake Darling Dam would be ramped up to “16 or 17,000 cfs by Thursday.” Minot’s existing dike system laborously protects against 10,000 cfs. The previous high release for Lake Darling prior to this flood event was less than 5,000 cfs. Numbers all along the Souris are similarly stunning, shocking and, ultimately, saddening.

I’d been planning on going there this summer.  Sounds like I’d best bring boots and a shovel.

19 thoughts on “You Think You Have Problems?

  1. Was reading the Minot paper on line yesterday and have to say…..the mood is quite depressing. It’s not like during a heavy winter when they can hope for a slow snow melt and little spring rain. Here, they know it is coming, they can predict the day.

    From my visits to Minot, I don’t recall this river being very large, but perhaps these are the worst as there is little room to handle extra water.

  2. Yes, man made global warming has turned the Upper Midwest into another giant dust bowl. Just as soon as it dries out.
    Happy first day of Summer.

  3. I go to Minot for Høstfest every fall. I wonder if they’ll be able to do it this year. It’s a great town; they’re in my prayers.

  4. Devils Lake continues to rise as well, and is now less than four feet from the elevation at which it will spill uncontrolled into the Sheyenne river. Huge amounts of farmland and homesteads have been swallowed up by the rising water levels in the past 15 years.

    I did a couple of trips out to Minot last year, and I noticed how the prairie potholes are very well watered. North Dakota is definitely into a wet climate cycle.

  5. When I drove across North Dakota in May, one rest stop between Jamestown and Bismarck was closed because the exit ramp was covered with water from the lake along I-94. It looked like only and inch or two more in water level would have had the lake over the freeway, but maybe the outlet from the lake was sufficient to prevent it.

    Both Montana and North Dakota were wetter than I ever remember them, particularly for Memorial Day weekend.

  6. My folks’ house is on the hill on the north side of valley, so they’re fine, but a large part of the valley is going under. KMOT just said the water level at the Broadway bridge has now reached the 1969 level, and the crest isn’t even supposed to hit until next week.

    The mandatory evacuation for Burlington just took effect, and the deadline for evacuation zones in Minot is in a few hours.

    We, too, were planning to go up in July like we always do for the State Fair. Will have to see if that takes place.

    Here’s a graphic of expected inundation zones. (It’s an 11M pdf.) Wow.

    Here’s the USGS tracking water and flow levels. Canada is letting massive amounts out of their dams because they can’t hold it, so that is coming down river, and there’s nothing to be done.

  7. Jeff,

    My mom lives on the South hill, about halfway between 83 and 52. Also up and out of the way, thankfully, although I bet the coulee below their house is the deepest I’ve ever seen.

  8. Ok, now wait just a cotton picking minute here…

    “Basically, Canada is pouring the coals to releases from dams. Rafferty is wide open, Alameda upped to 1,800 Monday and Boundary was at about 5,000 cfs,” said Schlag.

    So Minot is at the mercy of some dam-managing lackey at the Canadian/Saskatoon Civil Engineering Ministry? Good lord.

  9. Bill,

    From what I hear, the dams in Sask are at pretty much crisis levels (just like the ones on the James and Missouri).

    And the Canadians will get it back with interest if their (and Minnesota’s) lawsuit prevents ND from trying to drain Devil’s Lake before it overtops its natural retainer, races down the Sheyenne, and inundates Winnipeg (after taking Valley City, Fargo and Grand Forks with it).

  10. My wife is from Minot and we have friends there. Fortunately they, too, live on South Hill.

    Mitch, how threatened is the Minot State campus?

  11. Might be better off asking Jeff – I don’t actually know MOT all that well – but as I recall, it’s down in the valley.

  12. As I recall, the campus and the neghborhoods around it are among the most vulnerable. Jeff?

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