Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Some in North Dakota Second-Guess Forecasts Grand Forks Mayor Says Damage Could Have Been Averted

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Some in North Dakota Second-Guess Forecasts Grand Forks Mayor Says Damage Could Have Been Averted

Article excerpt

Town officials and flood-ravaged residents complained Wednesday that Grand Forks could have been saved if forecasters had been right about how high the Red River would rise.

"I don't like to be critical, but we were told absolutely 49 feet by the weather service," Mayor Pat Owens said. "I'm not pointing fingers, but our engineers said it would have been preventable."

The Red River crested at 54.1 feet Tuesday. Others say there is little that could have been done to resist the power of the flood. Back in February, the National Weather Service was already predicting record flooding in the Grand Forks area. The previous record was 48.8 feet set in 1979. The February forecast of 49 feet remained the same through a blizzard in early April. Not until April 14 was it increased to 50 feet. Sandbagging had already been going on for weeks. And as the river rose, schools and businesses closed to send their students and employees to the front lines piling bags atop the 49-foot-high earthen dike. On April 16, as the first of the residents along the river began to flee, the weather service increased the crest forecast to 50 1/2 feet. Predictions increased three times over the next two days to 54 feet. "We were dealing with an unprecedented flood, and you're dealing with Mother Nature, and you just have to roll with the punches," said Dean Braatz, hydrologist in charge of the weather service's North Central River Forecast Center in Minneapolis. "It's extremely complex, and under the circumstances, I think we did a very credible job." Al Grasser, Grand Forks assistant engineer, said the city could have done more to stem the floodwater if it had had accurate crest numbers. But Grasser said he was unsure how effective extra dike-building and sandbagging would have been. "You could have added the sandbags and the dikes and kept it off for a day, but the problem would be to build a dike or sandbags that would hold up for several weeks," he said. …

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