The Red River Flood of 1997
Professor Mark Moscicki
Mitchel McCabe – 250590151
Submitted: Wednesday April 3rd, 2013
Description of the event
The Red River Flood of 1997 was a colossal flood that occurred along the Red River of the North in April and May of 1997. The Red River of the North basin is located in North Dakota and Minnesota in the United States, as well as in southern Manitoba, Canada. (figure 1-map) This flood was the most severe on this river since 1826 and was referred to by the media as “The Flood of the Century.” (3) Flooding began in the southern portion of the basin on the weekend of April 4-6, where Breckenridge, MN had over 500 buildings damaged, and over a quarter of its residents were forced to evacuate. (2). The Flooding then travelled north, not causing major damages until it reached the towns of Grand Folks, ND and East Grand Folks, MN which lie on opposite sides of the river. The people of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks began flood preparations to protect the cities from a 49-foot flood crest; however, the cities' preparations did not anticipate the extent of the flooding as the actual flood crested at 54.33 feet (4). On April 18, the force of the rising water destroyed the dikes that protected the cities, and by early the next morning, all of East Grand Forks and half of Grand Forks were inundated. (2) Concern grew when the media began showing the mass flooding combined with, ironically enough, a large fire that had broken out in downtown Grand Folks, destroying 11 buildings including an entire city block. (4) The flood crest then continued on Northward into southern Manitoba. Although the flood caused about $500 million dollars damage to the city, flood control and damage reduction actions successfully averted losses which otherwise would have been disastrous (3). Miraculously no deaths were recorded from this catastrophic event, although the total damages were extremely substantial. It wasn’t until April 24 that government officials began to allow people back to what was left of their homes to begin the cleanup process, and reconstruction of homes and buildings continued for many years after.
Spring flooding’s of the Red River’s basin has occurred multiple times throughout the years, all of which typically resulting from snowmelt. When portions of the river further north remain frozen while the southern parts melt, the melted ice causes the water levels to rise above their banks and spread across the regions nearby. However, although the amount of snowfall is the direct factor, it is not the only determinant. Along with snowmelt, there are many other indirect factors that also affect whether or not heavy snowfall will result in flooding. Some of these factors include additional precipitation, frost depth, soil moisture and river ice conditions (2). The disaster of the Red River Flood exhibited all the classic preconditions for a large flood in the area, and was a product of many different environmental factors that occurred in the year leading up to the flood. The fall of 1996 had abnormally high precipitation levels, which resulted in elevated soil moisture at the time of freeze up.(1). Along with that, an unusually long and cold winter followed, resulting in high water content for the snowpack into early spring. With these environmental factors in play, officials in the area were indicating major flooding, but flooding that was well within the capacity of the flood protection systems set in place. (5). It was not until April 4-6 when blizzard “Hannah” brought the present of winds over 60 mph, more than 20 inches of snow, and serious concern to the region. (2). In addition to the already heavy existing snowpack, this unusually severe storm added an amount of water to the basin approximately equal to the entire runoff during the last two recorded floods (3). This record snowfall was a critical event, taking what would have been a large but...
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