March 21 2009
Red River Valley Flooding
An intersting day trip up to Fargo, North Dakota to help one of my good
friends, Eric Whitehill, and his wife Carrie move all their belongings from the
lower level of their home up to the highest floor.  Back in 1997 when I was in
Fargo for the "flood of the century", the spot where Eric's house is was 6 feet
under water.
The day started out with a stop at the Orwell Dam and
Reservior west of Fergus Falls, MN on the Ottertail River.  
This is the first key in controlling some of the flooding on the
Red River as the watershed for this river is HUGE in terms of
the amount of run off it collects from Minnesota's lake country.
The Army Corp of Engineers have been doing a draw down on the reservior trying to get 11' of water out to make room
to hold the expected massive runoff.  The noise was deafening.  What was erie was on the lake side of the dam, the
snow is still drifted 10'-20' deep along the sides.  That alone is going to be a lot of water.
Here is what I am taking about.   MASSIVE drifts anywhere the snow could get caught in
the trees or along the lee side of the steep 20' - 50' clay banks of the river.
With the draw down at the dam, the Otter River is full to its
banks downstream just outside of Breckenridge, MN.
Ice jams are a real problem.  Even if the flow of the water
can be regulated, a huge piece of ice can really be an issue.
Overland flooding beging to be apparent just outside of
Breckenridge, MN.  This has nothing to do with the rivers.  
Basically is the same thing as pouring water onto a dinner plate.
The confluence of the Ottertail River and the Bois de Sioux River.  The Red River of the
North is born. Note the amount of ice still locking the river and the flow of water.  As the flow
begins to increase, this will be ground zero for the expected massive flooding as the water
backs up.
Over on the North Dakota side in Wahpeton at Chahinkapa Park, sand piles await people
with sandbags and hopes of being able to save their homes.  Almost ironic as a water
park also sits on the bank of the river behind the dike at this location.
Even with the lack of obvious flooding yet, I couldn't help but notice the huge piles of
snow contrasted by the sand piles as a reminder of what is yet to come for these people.
Getting a low angle shot of the water going past on a trail now well covered by the rising
water.  There will be a short video documentary of this day at some point.
Moving north and downstream near Kent, MN.  Ice getting caught under a bridge which will
eventually have to be closed to traffic in a few days as the water will likely go over the top.
Further north near Abercrombie, ND.  This is where things start to look like a soggy
armageddon is about to happen.  The view looking south and west from town.  This is all
overland flooding and has nothing to do with the river.  A section of land out here is 1 mile
square and about 720 acres.  The problem is there are HUNDREDS of sections just like this
one lined up to the south and west.  With the ditches and culverts still plugged with ice, any
rain is going to push the levels over the top.  At some point, all of this water is going to try to
make it to the Red (which it will).  The town of Abercrombie is right in the path.
The overland flooding isn't the only problem at
Abercrombie. With a north flowing river locked in
ice, there  is nowhere for the water to go but up
sometimes.  The massive pressure causes the ice
to heave creating an even tighter jam.
At this point the river will spill out to the sides and out if it's banks.  The sound of military
choppers overhead in the thin fog was a spooky as the engineers try to get a handle on what
the river is doing and the where the overland water is going to make its run to the Red.  
Remember the earlier photo of the flooded sections?  It is SO flat up here the water from
the river can expand out about a mile for every 12" it goes above flood stage.  In a perfect
world, the ditch system would catch the water but they are still full of snow and thick ice.  
Starting to see the problem?
Fast forward.  After helping Eric and Carrie (and taking in a pizza lunch), I crossed back over the
Red to head for another tributary, the south fork of the Buffalo River at Sabin, MN.  
Doug
Kiesling from BNVN had tipped me off to some moderate flooding he had seen in the area earlier
in the week and since it was on the way home, I thought I would check it out.  One preventative
move they were trying in this area was to come in with huge back hoes on tracks and try to clean
out the ditches to give the water a place to sit or flow towards the Red.  This photo doesn't do
justice as to the massive amount of ice and snow they moved.  Too bad they filled back in and
are again locked in ice.
A snowmobile trail marker near Sabin, MN pretty much spells out what is to come as
the flooded fields wait patiently for warmer weather.
Just east of Sabin on the Buffalo River is where things
really start to look nasty as this is ALL moving water.
Capturing the sites and sounds of the flood as a road is
slowly washed away by the forces of nature.
Reflection of the sun captured in a
field east of Sabin, MN.
Unless it is a major road, I can guaranty you any township
road with a river crossing is GONE.
Ice dam on the Buffalo River.  It gets caught in the trees and causes a huge backup
which eventually spills over  the sides.
A wider shot of same ice jam showing what it does to the river.
Washout at Baker, MN.
After the flood northwest of Barnesville, MN.  The
creeks feeding into the Buffalo River have seen their
action already depositing most of the road materials
into the downstream ditches.
As the flood of 2009 gets going, it is going to be a long,
rough road for the the people living in the Red River Valley.  
Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers in the coming
weeks as this will be the weather headline for weeks to come.
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