The Complex Science of River Forecasting

Hydrology, river forecasting, is a science within a science. Meteorologists focus on changes in the atmosphere, but predicting when and how high a river will crest near a given town requires additional data and physics to power model simulations.

The probability of major flooding in Fargo has risen to 90 percent, and flood warnings have already been posted for portions of the Mississippi, Minnesota, Crow, Cottonwood, Redwood and Cannon rivers, as rapid melting flushes water into tributaries. Inundation of low-lying farmland and roads is inevitable – the potential for more serious or historic flooding may depend on heavy rain in the coming weeks.

In spite of a stray rain shower Sunday, I’m happy to report a dry forecast for Minnesota into next Thursday. NOAA’s GFS model prints out 1-2 inches of rain from a couple of storms after March 29, but impacts remain uncertain. Vigilance and a modest dash of paranoia are called for in the weeks to come.

50s return later this week and again the middle of next week, including the Twins Home Opener. 

File image: U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.

Flood Warnings. For the very latest flood warnings check out the Twin Cities National Weather Service site.

Situation Report. The latest SitRep from the Twin Cities office of the National Weather Service regarding river flooding potential is here.

Cities Across Minnesota Prep for Worst as Spring, Snowmelt Add to Flood Threat. The Star Tribune has the latest: “…As the landscape thaws, the threat of significant flooding looms from the Red River Valley in the northwest to the Mississippi basin in the southeast. The main spring snowmelt has begun in central and southern Minnesota and west-central Wisconsin and will increase through the weekend, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). It issued its first warning that widespread ice jam and snowmelt flooding would increase this week and into next week for all basins in the region. Nestled between the Vermillion and Mississippi rivers near Red Wing, Prairie Island is accustomed to spring flooding because much of the reservation is in a floodplain. This year, however, the flooding could rival historic levels because of a deep snowpack that blanketed most of state…”

Map credit: AerisWeather and Praedictix.

Wetter Start to Early April. Generally dry weather is forecast to linger through the end of next week, but there are indications of a wetter pattern and a series of southern storms from the last few days of March into the first week or two of April. Impacts on timing and severity of river flooding is still uncertain this far out (but it certainly can’t help).

Nebraska Pushes for Federal Funds as Flood Damage Escalates.The Wall Street Journal quantifies the magnitude of damage and loss: “Nebraska officials are pushing hard for a disaster declaration that will allow the state to tap federal funds to help recover from record flooding that has done roughly $1.4 billion worth of damage to homes, businesses, local infrastructure and the state’s agriculture industries. Of Nebraska’s 93 counties, 77 had declared emergencies as of Wednesday afternoon. More than 2,000 homes and roughly 340 businesses have been damaged or lost, according to state officials, and flooding has left multiple communities without drinking water or functioning sewer-treatment systems. “We know this is going to be a monthslong recovery just from the public infrastructure side,” Gov. Pete Ricketts said…”
Photo credit: “Vice President Mike Pence spoke to reporters in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, with Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts to his left.” Photo: Nati Harnik/Associated Press.

As Historic Flooding Plagues Midwest, States Brace For More Water. Here’s an excerpt from a post at Governing: “...In 2009, volunteers filled 7.5 million sandbags to raise the levees and saved the city from catastrophic flood damage. Schildberger said the city sandbagging operation this year would be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., beginning next Tuesday. The goal is to fill 100,000 bags a day over 10 days. The city has made numerous improvements in its flood preparations since 2009 but still has some areas that will require extra flood protections, said Amanda Lee, a NWS hydrologist and meteorologist covering the Red River Valley. She said the blizzard that struck Grand Forks last week largely dumped rain on Fargo. That water soaked into the snowpack and is sitting atop frozen ground. Moorhead has also been preparing in the decade since the last big flood, putting up levees and acquiring properties along the river...”

Nebraska Flooding Seen from Space in Dramatic Detail. LiveScience has an explainer: “A new series of before-and-after images shows the ongoing flooding in Nebraska in jaw-dropping detail. The images, created by the European Union’s Earth-observation program, Copernicus, show rivers turned to lakes and farms and towns underwater. The record flooding is the result of a “bomb cyclone” that struck the central U.S. last week. The term refers to a storm that forms outside of the tropics in which atmospheric pressure drops very rapidly. In Nebraska, snowmelt and rains associated with the storms have swollen rivers and creeks. According to the National Weather Service office in Hastings, Nebraska, at least six river gauges have recorded their highest levels ever...”

Image credit: “Nebraska’s Platte River swelled this month with record-breaking floodwaters.” Credit: NASA Earth Observatory.

In Photos: Deadly Floods Sweep the Midwest. The Atlantic has staggering photos that capture the scale of the ongoing river flooding: “At least three people are confirmed to have lost their lives so far amid record-setting floods affecting parts of Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, and other nearby states. Thousands of people have been asked to evacuate, and many have been away from their homes for days in hard-hit Nebraska, following last week’s “bomb cyclone” weather system that dropped huge amounts of precipitation—adding to existing troubles from heavy snowmelt and ice-choked rivers. Dams and levees were overwhelmed, roads have been washed away, and some neighborhoods, farms, and military bases now sit in water up to eight feet deep. Some of the rivers in eastern Nebraska are beginning to recede, and others are expected to crest within 24 hours. Areas downstream, along the Mississippi River Valley, are preparing for likely flooding…”

Photo credit: “Flooded apartments are seen in this aerial photo taken above the Elkhorn River in Nebraska on March 16, 2019.” Office of Governor Pete Ricketts / Handout via Reuters.

Historic Flooding Ongoing. NOAA has updated information and a very effective interactive tool to keep up with current and future flooding potential:

Fargo Declares Emergency as Floods Swamp Four Midwestern States to the South. Star Tribune has the very latest; here’s an excerpt: “With epic floods swamping much of the Great Plains and warmer weather likely to start melting the snowpack across Minnesota and North Dakota, Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney decided Monday not to take any chances. Mahoney declared a state of emergency for his city in anticipation of spring flooding and is seeking 200 volunteers to begin stuffing 1 million sandbags next week in case the Red River of the North, still largely frozen, crests at 40.3 feet — just below the historic 2009 flood. “We cannot be complacent,” he said. The latest forecast indicates “significant” flooding will likely occur in coming weeks along the Red River, which borders northwestern Minnesota and eastern North Dakota and flows north into Canada. The chance the river will reach major flood stage in the Fargo-Moorhead area has increased from 50 percent to 90 percent, the National Weather Service (NWS) said…”

Cyclone Idai Could Be the Southern Hemisphere’s Deadliest Storm. The Washington Post has some staggering details: “We don’t know how many people have died since Cyclone Idai made landfall last Thursday on the coast of Mozambique before barreling west into Zimbabwe and Malawi. Aerial photography and drone footage have shown the apocalyptic scenes left in the cyclone’s wake: Fields of crops were ruined, rising floodwaters tore bridges off their moorings, mudslides smashed roads and whole villages were swept away. Survivors found themselves trapped on new “islands,” surrounded by the brackish waters that obliterated their homes. The United Nations estimated that more than 2.6 million people are in need of immediate assistance. Aid officials believe the tropical storm damaged or destroyed some 90 percent of the Indian Ocean port of Beira, Mozambique’s fourth-largest city...”

Image credit: Josh Estey/CARE/AP.

Hilton is Recycling Used Bars of Soap to Save the Planet. has the story: “Used soap from Hilton Hotels is getting a second life. The company announced Monday that it will collect used bars of soap from guest rooms across its hotels and recycle them into 1 million new bars of soap by October 15, which is Global Handwashing Day.  The project is in conjunction with Clean the World, a social organization that distributes soap to communities in need. Hilton (HLT) said it will collect soap from its various hotels, including Embassy Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton, Homewood Suites and Home2 Suites. The used soap is “crushed, sanitized and cut into new soap bars,” according to the company…”

Image credit: Hilton Hotels.

Henrik Fisker Plans Electric SUV Priced Under $40,000. Automotive News has more details: “Noted designer Henrik Fisker, who tried to start his own automobile company more than a decade ago, is taking another shot — this time, he says, with an electric SUV with a price starting under $40,000. Fisker Inc. aims to have the vehicle fully designed, engineered, tested, validated, certified and on sale in just over two years from now — even though it has not finalized a deal for a venue in which to build the vehicle. The company says the vehicle — which has yet to be named — will be available with either one electric motor for two-wheel-drive models or two electric motors for four-wheel-drive versions. The goal is for a 300-mile range between charges from an 80-kilowatt lithium ion battery pack…”

Photo credit: FISKER. “Henrik Fisker — aiming to counter what an SUV can be — released an early look at a planned all-electric luxury vehicle Monday. He calls it a futuristic, elegant muscular EV with clean surfaces, dramatic shape and design touches that have been traditionally found on supercars.”

Facebook Says Service Hindered By Lack of Local News. Uh huh. I wonder how those “news deserts” came to be? Here’s the intro of a story at AP: “Facebook’s effort to establish a service that provides its users with local news and information is being hindered by the lack of outlets where the company’s technicians can find original reporting. The service, launched last year, is currently available in some 400 cities in the United States. But the social media giant said it has found that 40 percent of Americans live in places where there weren’t enough local news stories to support it. Facebook announced Monday it would share its research with academics at Duke, Harvard, Minnesota and North Carolina who are studying the extent of news deserts created by newspaper closures and staff downsizing…”

AP Photo/Richard Drew, File.

Your Guide to the 2019 NCAA Men’s Tournament. Here is an excerpt of a very helpful post at FiveThirtyEight: “…According to the FiveThirtyEight model, top seed Duke has the best chance of advancing to the Final Four in the entire field (53 percent probability) as well as the best odds of winning the national title (19 percent). The Blue Devils are led by four soon-to-be first-round draft picks, including Zion Williamson, one of the greatest talents in recent memory. Duke is a walking highlight reel on the offensive end and far stingier on defense than many may realize. This is among Mike Krzyzewski’s most-balanced teams and projects to be his first since 2010 to rank inside the top six in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offense and defense metrics. That team won the national title.1

Likeliest first-round upsets: No. 9 Central Florida over No. 8 VCU (47 percent); No. 11 Belmont* over No. 6 Maryland (39 percent); No. 10 Minnesota over No. 7 Louisville (34 percent)...”

Breathalyzer for Texting? The Washington Post has an intriguing story: “New Technology Hopes to Curb Distracted Driving. Nevada is considering legislation that would allow police to test for cellphone use at the scene of a car crash. But the use of such technology to curb distracted driving also raises privacy concerns, and some critics contend it violates constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure…The Nevada bill would let police officers plug the device into a phone and scan for recent activity, like Facebook messaging or web browsing. The Israel-based company behind the textalyzer, Cellebrite, said it drew on the alcohol-detecting breathalyzer for the name. Privacy advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union, contend that law enforcement should not be allowed to use the tool without a warrant...”

Sometimes Blogs Pay Off. Here are a couple of excerpts from a story at CNN Business: “Glossier is now a unicorn. The New York-based beauty brand is now valued at $1.2 billion following its latest funding round, according to a source familiar with the deal… In 2010, CEO and Founder Emily Weiss started a popular blog called “Into the Gloss” with beauty tips, trends and tutorials. She used it to launch beauty and skincare brand Glossier four years later, which offers simple and affordable products…Glossier has since attracted a cult-like following with nearly 2 million followers on Instagram. Weiss has been credited with being especially effective at using social media to reach customers...”

Spaceflight is Activating Herpes in Astronauts. Go into space – get herpes! explains: “The longer astronauts spend in space, the more likely they are to have viruses like herpes, chickenpox and shingles reactivate, according to new NASA research. The reason may be the same for viral reactivation on Earth: stress. Samples of blood, urine and saliva were collected from astronauts before, during and after short space shuttle flights and long-term International Space Station missions. Herpes viruses reactivated in more than half of the astronauts. The study published last week in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology. “To date, 47 out of 89 (53%) astronauts on short space shuttle flights, and 14 out of 23 (61%) on longer ISS missions shed herpes viruses in their saliva or urine samples,” said lead study author Satish K. Mehta at Johnson Space Center…”

Image credit: Astronaut Scott Kelly, NASA ISS.

Cow Runs Away from Indiana Police, Blocks Traffic, Goes to Chick-Fil-A. has the unlikely story: “Yes, you read that right. A cow temporarily halted traffic in a town just north of Indianapolis on Saturday, running away from police to the nearest “safe” spot: Chick-Fil-A. According to the Noblesville Police Department, officers were chasing a runaway cow across Campus Parkway before it crossed the street and waited by the fast-food chain. Indiana resident Athena Hopkins caught the wild cow crossing the street on video, which quickly became viral when she posted it to her Facebook page. “So this just happened!!!!” Hopkins exclaimed in her caption on Facebook.”

Trace of snow on the ground at MSP International Airport.

67.3″ of snow so far this winter season in the Twin Cities.

49 F. high on Wednesday at MSP.

43 F. average high on March 20.

33 F. high on March 20, 2018.

March 21, 1953: A tornado hits the northern St. Cloud area. High winds from thunderstorms are experienced from Martin to Stearns County.

THURSDAY: Sunny and breezy. Winds: W 10-20. High: 47

FRIDAY: Sunny and pleasant. Less wind. Winds: N 5-10. Wake-up: 30. High: near 50

SATURDAY: Nicer day of the weekend. Intervals of mild sun. Winds: S 8-13. Wake-up: 33. High: 55

SUNDAY: More clouds. Risk of a passing shower. Winds: NE 8-13. Wake-up: 42. High: near 50

MONDAY: Clearing skies, cooler breeze. Winds: N 7-12. Wake-up: 30. High: 43

TUESDAY: Blue sky, light winds. Winds: SW 5-10. Wake-up: 24. High: 48

WEDNESDAY: Partly sunny, windy and milder. Winds: S 10-20. Wake-up: 31. High: 54

Climate Stories….

America Cares About Climate Change Again. If only. Here’s the intro to a pst at The Atlantic: “Suddenly, climate change is a high-profile national issue again. It’s not just the Green New Deal. Around the country, the loose alliance of politicians, activists, and organizations concerned about climate change is mobilizing. They are deploying a new set of strategies aimed at changing the minds—or at least the behaviors—of a large swath of Americans, including utility managers, school principals, political donors, and rank-and-file voters. They make a ragtag group: United by little more than common concern, they don’t agree on an ideal federal policy or even how to talk about the problem. They do not always coordinate or communicate with one another…”

Photo credit: “Jay Inslee’s long-shot, climate-focused presidential campaign is only one of several new campaigns, run by Democrats across the ideological spectrum.” Lindsey Wasson / Reuters.

The Lovable Carbon Tax. Put a signal in the market and let companies come up with carbon-free solutions? Here’s an excerpt of an Op-Ed at Forbes: “…But at one point a strange hush and murmuring of agreement came over the group. We all agreed on one thing, one tax that would make the world better: a carbon tax. Right now. Last month, more than 3,500 economists—a record number—signed an open letter calling for a carbon tax to fight climate change. Several of the economists at the meeting told me something to the effect of, “I never signed a letter before but I signed this one.” Signers included 27 Nobel Prize winners, the four living former chairs of the Federal Reserve (from Janet Yellen to Alan Greenspan), and all but one of the former heads of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, Republicans and Democrats alike. (Note: I signed it too!) Many economists distrust government action and prefer markets to work out problems, so the breadth of agreement on the use of a carbon tax to address climate change is striking and rare...”

We Will Miss the Warm Winters. Retirees Are Fleeing Florida as Climate Change Threatens Their Financial Future. CNN Money has a story I wasn’t quite expecting (yet); here’s an excerpt: “Florida, with its plentiful beaches, warm weather, and lack of a state-income tax, is the most popular destination for older adults in the U.S. But some who have lived in the Sunshine State for years are moving in the opposite direction. As damaging storms and other effects of climate change have hit Florida particularly hard in the past few years, some older adults living there have become concerned about their safety and their ability to enjoy retirement. So they’re fleeing this otherwise balmy state. About 52,630 people ages 65 and over left Florida in 2017, versus 48,174 in 2016 and 43,356 in 2012, according to Jon Rork, professor of Economics at Reed College in Portland, Oregan, who studies retirement migration…”

File image: NASA.

Tourists are Flocking to Locations Threatened by Climate Change. That Only Makes Things Worse. Vox explains: “...Today, the net effect of human traffic and its hand in climate change have done possibly irreparable damage to the landmark. When confronted with direct contact from humans or reef-damaging sunscreen chemicals, corals experience stress, leading to coral bleaching. And this isn’t the only issue; the carbon footprint involved in travel also has a deleterious effect on the reef. The cloud of destruction that looms over the Keys hovers over many tourist destinations affected by climate change: the Great Barrier Reef, the Galapagos, Montana’s National Glacier Park. And in recent years, these sites’ anticipated disappearance has been a large part of their draw. Labeled “last-chance tourism,” this is the practice of visiting a location before it vanishes or is irreparably changed…”

File image: Jacob Frank, National Park Service.

Ruined Crops, Salty Soil: How Rising Seas are Poisoning North Carolina’s Farmland. The Washington Post reports: “…It’s been getting worse,” the farmer tells East Carolina University hydrogeologist Alex Manda, who drove out to this corner of coastal North Carolina with a group of graduate students to figure out what’s poisoning Pugh’s land — and whether anything can be done to stop it. Of climate change’s many plagues — drought, insects, fires, floods — saltwater intrusion in particular sounds almost like a biblical curse. Rising seas, sinking earth and extreme weather are conspiring to cause salt from the ocean to contaminate aquifers and turn formerly fertile fields barren. A 2016 study in the journal Science predicted that 9 percent of the U.S. coastline is vulnerable to saltwater intrusion — a percentage likely to grow as the world continues to warm. Scientists are just beginning to assess the potential effect on agriculture, Manda said, and it’s not yet clear how much can be mitigated...”

Photo credit: “East Carolina University graduate students Trevor Burns, left, and Tyler Palochak check groundwater monitoring equipment on a farm near Engelhard, N.C., in January.” (Eamon Queeney/for The Washington Post)

Why Climate Action is the Antithesis of White Supremacy. The Guardian has an interesting Op-Ed. Here’s an excerpt: “…This is why fighting against climate change is the equivalent of fighting against hatred. A world that thrives is one where both people and planet are seen for their inextricable value and connectedness.” Our work as climate activists arises from the recognition that acts have consequences, and consequences come with responsibilities, and we are responsible for the fate of this earth, for all living things now and in the future we are choosing with our actions– or inactions – in the present. But also from the recognition that ecological connectedness contains a deep beauty tantamount to love. Our goal as climate activists is to protect life. Those children and youth standing up for the future in Christchurch and in more than 1,700 other cities around the world were already the answer we needed.”

Energy Execs’ Tone on Climate Changing, But They Still See a Long Fossil Future. InsideClimate News has the post: “A weeklong energy industry conference that came to a close on Friday revealed an oil and gas industry in the midst of a working contradiction. In speeches that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago, executives from some of the world’s largest oil companies said the future is low-carbon and the industry needs to reinvent itself or risk becoming irrelevant as the world turns to cleaner energy. Yet at the same time, their peers talked about a future where oil and gas demand would remain strong for decades. They spoke of natural gas not as a bridge to some fossil-fuel-free world but as a “forever fuel...”

Photo credit: “U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Energy Secretary Rick Perry were at this year’s CERAWeek by IHS Markit, where oil and gas executives discussed the future of energy, particularly fossil fuels.” Credit: Ron Przysucha/State Department.

It’s Getting Hot, Records Show: Climate Nexus has an overview and link: “Hot weather records in cities across the United States over the past 20 years have been broken twice as much as cold weather ones, the AP reports. An analysis conducted by the AP of 424 weather stations across the country with consistent data since 1920 finds that 87 percent of the stations had seen more daily hot records set than cold ones since 1999. The analysis shows that while the 1960s and 70s had about 1.5 hot records for every cold one, 42 of the weather stations analyzed had broken at least five hot records for every cold record since 1999. “As a measure of climate change, the dailies [temperature records] will tell you more about what’s happening,” Stanford climate scientist Chris Field told the AP. “The impacts of climate change almost always come packaged in extremes.” (AP)

On the Campaign Trail, Climate Change Can No Longer Be Ignored. A story at Roll Call caught my eye; here’s an excerpt: “…Borick explained that while each candidate’s environmental bona fides may not necessarily earn them a win in a crowded field, for Democratic voters, “if you’re not seen as giving due diligence to the issue, you could be putting yourself at a disadvantage.” Polling shows increased interest in climate change, especially among likely Democratic voters. While most polls show the economy and health care remain the top priorities for most Americans, growing numbers consider acting on climate change important. “It will probably play pretty well in the primaries,” said Barry Rabe, a professor of public and environmental policy at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. “The problem is what happens when you get through the primaries...”

Photo credit: “Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and other Democratic presidential  hopefuls are betting that climate change will be a big issue in 2020.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo).