The flood risk in the U.S. portion of the Red River Valley is low to moderate this spring, says the first forecast of the year.
Based on current snow and soil-moisture conditions, the U.S. National Weather Service says there is a potential for a moderate flood this spring on the Red River south of the Canada-U.S. border.
'January is too early in the winter season to be a good indicator of spring flood potential'
A moderate flood would involve the Red spilling its banks in some locations but not posing a major threat to flood defences in Fargo or Grand Forks or forcing the closure of many U.S. roads.
The U.S. weather service also predicted minor to moderate flooding on North Dakota and Minnesota tributaries of the Red River, again based on current conditions.
"At this point in time, the risk for substantial flooding appears low," National Weather Service meteorologist Greg Gust said in a statement. "But there's a lot of winter yet to unfold. An early thaw is less likely."
The U.S. weather service based its prediction on the fact soil-moisture levels, streams flows and snowpack levels are within normal ranges south of the border. As well, the long-term forecast for continuing cold weather bodes well for less snow, "since colder air has less moisture and produces somewhat fluffier snow," Gust said in the statement.
Environment Canada reports the snowpack in Winnipeg is slightly more than twice the average for this time of year -- but nowhere near record levels. A lot of snow on the ground does not necessarily mean a flood is imminent, as the amount of moisture within that snowpack must be considered on a basin-wide basis, along with moisture levels in the soil and the capacity of rivers to carry spring runoff.
Ultimately, the weather over the next few months will determine if there is a flood at all this spring.
Manitoba flood forecasters concur with the U.S. assessment of a low-to-normal flood potential for the American portion of the Red River basin, but caution it is too soon to draw conclusions for southern Manitoba, which drains the vast Assiniboine River basin as well.
"January is too early in the winter season to be a good indicator of spring flood potential," said Steve Topping, executive director of hydrologic forecasting and water management for Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation, in a statement.
The U.S. National Weather Service will issue its next flood outlook on Feb. 20. Manitoba's first spring flood forecast, which incorporates the U.S. data, will follow in late February, Topping said.