Twenty year flood?

What does a hydrologist do when all the blue ink is gone?

That’s a good time to check in with the Red River, the Everglades of the Dakotas.

As I mentioned last week,
a meteorologist there introduced me to the saying:

“All droughts end in flood.”

But in looking at the Red River hydrograph I am struck by how drought seems to have all but vanished in the past two decades. The hydrograph above is divided in two: the two-decade period from 1970 to 1990 on the left and the most recent twenty years (1991-2010) on the right. Over 2.5 million acre feet discharged passed Fargo last year whereas in the 1970s and 1980s annual totals of under a half million acre feet were the norm.

What’s going on?


My best guess is that meteorologists are simply over forecasting too much rain and too much snow within the Red River Basin. If they would just scale back their forecasts maybe the river wouldn’t be so full! Okay, that’s probably not the reason … not that meteorologists wouldn’t jump at the chance to levee such control. Riverside residents tend to focus on how flood waters have risen particularly high these past two springs, lapping up at the top of the levees in the off-the-chart 10,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) range.

The river safely retreated from its last spring crest, but its current rate of 3,000 cfs is making for a historically unusual high fall.

Make that an unusually high two decades:

From my perspective here in the Florida Everglades, the Red has been in the black (aka “surplus flowing water”) for a good twenty years.

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