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A graph that scares me February 3, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in Uncategorized.

A few of you may remember seeing this on TV a couple years ago:

Unfortunately, this is getting to be too familiar. Last year, we had a record-breaking river crest, although it was a good 4 feet below the previous year. A few weeks ago, they came out with the prediction for this year’s spring thaw. Take a gander (and click to enlarge):

The plot shows the probability of reaching a certain height at some point during the spring. If I understand this correctly, the blue circles are based on historical probabilities while the black triangles are based on simulations. The historical numbers are based on the past hundred years. We’ve had half a dozen record-level crests in the past 15 years. We’re obviously in a wet cycle, and the historical data doesn’t reflect that. At this point, I think the simulations are far more trustworthy.

Looking at those values, Fargo has a 50% probability of the Red River hitting about 38 feet. This would place the crest in the top five historical crests. There is a ten percent probability of hitting 42 feet. This is more than a foot above the 2009 flood.

I feel tremendously sorry for our mayor who had thought about retiring after the 2009 flood, saying he thought this drove home the point that we need some permanent flood control measures. After all, we would never have another flood like that, right?

Given the huge amount of fighting about which measure to institute and who is going to pay for it, I can’t help but wonder if the universe is trying to be a bit more poignant.

Regardless, it is now the beginning of February and sandbagging has already begun. If the snow (nearly twice as much as last year) melts slowly, we may only hit 38 feet. The past few years have not been so lucky in that regard, so no one is taking any chances: the dikes are being built to 43 feet.

If I disappear for a few days at the end of March or early April, you can probably find me building a dike.



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