Tricky Business

MPR reminds us that “Flood forecasting is tricky business” with a Radio-on-the-TV Youtube feature. Didn’t know Minnesota Public Radio was on Youtube. Then again I’m a dial-up guy who still remembers when MTV actually played music videos.

The Grand Forks Herald reported Thursday:

A statement from the office of Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty this afternoon said President Barack Obama has approved a major disaster declaration clearing the way for federal relief and recovery assistance in Polk, Marshall, Kittson, Norman, Wilkin, Traverse and Clay counties along the Red River in northwestern Minnesota.

“I’m also renewing my request that the federal government authorize assistance to individuals and households, as many families have been severely impacted by this flood,” Pawlenty said.

One would think we would have learned our lessons ten years ago, but nobody agrees what those lessons are and what to do about it. The governors of North Dakota and Minnesota are pushing to get at least one thing done:

Pawlenty and Hoeven said they are organizing a mission to Washington, D.C. of local, state and congressional leaders to press the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to advance the timetable for a study now underway to address broad-based flood protection in the Fargo-Moorhead are of the Red River Valley. Officials said the study, which isn’t scheduled for completion until December 2010, is moving too slowly to address the needs of the region.

“We need the Corps to do more than just study it – we need a plan and a commitment from the Corps for federal funding and project approval so that we can move forward with construction,” said Governor Hoeven. “Our budget committed $75 million in state funding for Fargo’s Southside Flood Project, which should be incorporated into the plan, and we are willing to commit more if necessary.”

“Flooding has affected Minnesotans and North Dakotans along the Red River Valley from the river’s headwaters to the Canadian border,” Governor Pawlenty said. “A comprehensive and equitable plan is needed to protect citizens in both states from future flood events. The good work already completed in East Grand Forks and Grand Forks is proof that mitigation is not only possible, but that it works.”

Hoeven said he believes the Corps has money in its budget. “There will be no better time than the present to make a solid commitment to the people of Minnesota and North Dakota to get this job done.”

There’s politics afoot as well, with the Minnesota Legislature debating if more money should be borrowed for flood protection projects. Guess I need to do my part and get back to finishing our local all hazard mitigation plans.

(Cross-posted from

Goose River flooding

I remember putting on my rubber barn boots & grabbing a shovel, heading down by the banks of the Goose River between Mayville and Portland, right there on North Dakota Highway 200 by the park.

Goose River flooding homes in Mayville, ND

Several homes and businesses have taken on water in Mayville as the Goose River spills out of its banks, according to the Traill County Sheriff’s Office.
Capt. Steve Hunt said the flooding began late morning and early afternoon Tuesday along Highway 200 at the bottom of a hill in Mayville.
The flooded buildings included a city shop, three businesses and four homes, he said.
“At least two of them have a foot of water on the main floor,” he said.
The city planned to shore up sandbags around its water plant, he said. 

Mike Nowatzki, Forum report  3/25/09 Forum newsroom
Posted by: floodblogger on 3/25/2009 at 8:59 AM |

The situation in the Red River Valley this year is a flash-back to 1997, when a late ice-storm slowed down the snowmelt saving Fargo from the Flood of the Century and dooming Grand Forks.  The Forum is reporting today:

About 3 inches of snow had fallen by 7 a.m. in the metro area, and the National Weather Service predicts 5 to 8 inches total from Fargo north to Grand Forks before the storm diminishes this evening.

I’m following flood info & river levels on Twitter, too.  Not much I can do from 200 miles away, but maybe it will put those old memories in perspective.  Be prepared out there.

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Edit: Steve Gunderson has posted a great photo album from the Goose River flooding at Mayville-Portland on his home page.  The photo below is a greenhouse we helped get going when I worked for Traill County.  The owner is a great guy, but maybe I should have worked harder with him to find a safer location.  Shoulda, coulda, woulda….

Kost Hydroponics, Mayville, ND, Flood 2009

Kost Hydroponics, Mayville, ND, Flood 2009

Bozeman Explosion

At about 8:12 AM MST yesterday, a large natural-gas explosion rocked historic downtown Bozeman, Montana.  Several buildings in the 200 Block of Main Street, across from First Security Bank, were destroyed and one woman is missing.  There were no other casualties.  From what I’ve gathered from Twitter (#bozexplod) and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, it’s taken 24 hours to isolate the gas leak and subdue the fires.

 I lived in Bozeman almost 5 years.  It’s an amazing, creative new west meets old west, Yellowstone Park and working cattle ranches and mountains and blue ribbon trout jumping into your creel should you be a sufficiently virtuous fly fisherman.

Couple points we can take away from this disaster:

  1. Do you have a personal and professional disaster recovery plan?  Where would your family meet if your home was destroyed?  What would your business or organization do if your office exploded, was hit by a flood, or a pipe froze and burst?  Visit for tips.
  2. Social media like Facebook and Twitter increasingly fills the real-time information gap in this sort of situation.  However, smart organizations can integrate these tools to reinforce their value.  The key, as always, is building your network because you never know who is going to know what you need to know when you need to know it.  You know?
  3. On a similar note, a really smart guy I once worked for used to say that Scope is as important as Scale.  A larger city might have more firefighters, more specialized equipment and nifty high-tech recovery tools.  In a smaller citylike Bozeman, though, everybody knows everybody else and they know who can help get the job done—there are numerous examples coming out of city workers sticking to the job into the night despite the cold and snow, along with construction workers, lumber yards, ordinary citizens and more.  No matter if you’re big or small, make Scale work when it can and Scope when Scale can’t.

It’s a good reminder to Prepare, Plan, and Stay Informed.

Be Prepared.

FEMA Encourages North Dakotans to Buy Flood Insurance Now

I lived in North Dakota during the Great Red River Flood of 1997.  You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen an entire city of 50,000 people evacuated.  Families with nothing left but the clothes on their backs.

Even if you’re outside the lines on FEMA’s Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs), use your own best judgement.  The engineers who delineate the flooplains work hard to get it right, but they’re only human and have imperfect information at hand. 

Go out and talk to the neighbor that’s lived on your block the longest—if they’ve seen the water there before, it’s probably coming back again.  When you’re not looking.  We do our best to mitigate the effects of disasters, but it’s up to you as an individual to be prepared.