State agencies start preparing for potential spring flooding after record wet fall in North Dakota
BISMARCK – Officials from nearly a dozen agencies, including the Governor’s Office, Department of Emergency Services (DES) and North Dakota National Guard, began planning efforts this week in anticipation of spring flooding after a record wet fall that has produced high river flows and left soils saturated heading into freeze-up.
The initial coordination meeting at DES headquarters in Bismarck was designed to lay the foundation for a unified approach to flood preparedness, response and recovery efforts. Other participating agencies included the Department of Agriculture, Department of Health, Department of Human Services, Department of Environmental Quality, Highway Patrol, Office of the State Engineer, State Water Commission and the National Weather Service.
“We’re starting flood preparations earlier than normal because these unprecedented wet conditions pose a serious threat to people and property next spring, in addition to the tremendous hardship they’re causing our farmers and ranchers right now,” Gov. Doug Burgum said. “While we can’t predict the weather between now and spring, we’re committed to taking a whole-of-government approach to ensure that our local communities, state agencies and federal partners are best prepared to respond and recover if major flooding occurs.”
After drought conditions affected much of the state as recently as June, the three-month period of August, September and October was the wettest on record in 125 years in North Dakota, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information.
“The wetness we’ve experienced over the past few months is greater than once-in-a-generation,” said Allen Schlag, hydrologist at the National Weather Service in Bismarck.
High soil moisture is the big concern moving forward, as extremely wet soils will have limited capacity to absorb snowmelt, Schlag said. The winter outlook also calls for a 40 percent chance of above-normal precipitation over the next three months. Large volumes of water are frozen in river basins, especially in the James River basin, and will have to flow through the river channels along with snowmelt next spring, Schlag said. In one silver lining, the heavy snow that blanketed much of the state last weekend should insulate the ground and reduce frost depths, allowing soils to thaw more quickly to absorb water in the spring, he noted. Schlag’s slide presentation can be viewed here.
In the coming weeks and months, state agencies will work with local entities and federal partners to solidify flood preparedness, response and recovery plans and share information on how communities and individual property owners can protect themselves, including purchasing flood insurance.
“With two snowstorms already this season, and with a long winter ahead and conditions ripe for runoff, we felt it was prudent to bring everyone together early and start planning how we can best support local and tribal authorities in their flood preparedness efforts,” said National Guard Maj. Gen. Alan Dohrmann, the state’s adjutant general.
“By increasing our investment in preparedness and mitigation, we tend to decrease the cost in disaster response and recovery,” Homeland Security Director Cody Schulz said. “That’s why planning and communicating with our public and private partners is so critical before incidents like flooding occur.”
The National Weather Service will release its spring flood outlooks for North Dakota on Feb. 13, Feb. 27 and March 12.