Spirits undampened

Seven years after the 1997 flood that devastated Grand Forks, North Dakota, I paid a visit to the city, and observed:

I remembered the news coverage back in ’97, but I had to see for myself: when the river crested at 54 feet — flood stage is a mere 26 feet — did it destroy the heart, the soul, of the city?

No way, Don José. Seven years after the fact, Grand Forks is glorious and, well, grand; I made just enough wrong turns through town to see quite a bit of the place, and it’s clean, green, and (I hope) prepared for the next Flood of the Century. And as I passed over a bridge into Minnesota, I glanced down into that still, silent water and thought, “Sneaky bastard.”

It was, of course, this bridge.

Grand Forks is threatened again, though right now the immediate danger is upstream at Fargo. Alan Sullivan reports:

The city is fortifying to 41.5 feet. The forecast crest is 40 feet. NOAA has an excellent page of water levels and forecast heights. It indicates a very prolonged crest, with the river standing at record level for days. This will enhance the risk of dike breaks and sewer failures, but it’s preferable to a higher, briefer event.

And I must include this quote:

“We don’t see any fear,” Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker said. “We just see people working very hard.”

Which is what they do in North Dakota. I pray it pays off for them.


  1. fillyjonk »

    25 March 2009 · 12:03 pm

    When my dad took early retirement from his university job, he applied for a number of others – the three top finalists were in Central Illinois, Eastern Michigan – and Grand Forks.

    The family wound up moving to Central Illinois, as that’s the one he took. (Grand Forks was #2 on the list, apparently)

    I was still living with them in 1997 (finishing up my dissertation) and I remember one night (my dad was out of town that evening) they were showing the flood footage on the news, and my mom looked at me with kind of a haunted expression and said, “I’m so glad we didn’t move there.”

    Still, those Mississippi-adjacent people are a hearty bunch – I don’t know if I could keep living somewhere that I knew was very likely to wipe my home out in that way in the future.

  2. Ted »

    25 March 2009 · 12:16 pm

    I was stationed at Grand Forks AFB in the late 70’s during one of their periodic floods. Truckloads of sand and volunteers from the base were headed to town 24/7 during the crisis. Helicopters dropped pallets of empty sandbags to be filled. We worked our asses off for a week to save much of the city, but I always wondered why you would choose to build and live in an area that you know is going to be flooded. Not if, but when.

  3. McGehee »

    25 March 2009 · 12:33 pm

    FTR, Grand Forks is next to the Red River of the North; its waters go up into Canada and, unless I’m mistaken, thus to Hudson Bay.

    Years ago, after the ’97 floods if I remember right, my wife considered applying for a position with the NWS office located in Grand Forks. Life in mosquito-ridden Interior Alaska was too fresh in our memories at the time, so when I learned how prevalent the buggers are in GF I lobbied against the idea.

  4. CGHill »

    25 March 2009 · 1:07 pm

    The Red actually empties into Lake Winnipeg; it never quite makes it to Hudson Bay.

  5. McGehee »

    26 March 2009 · 10:06 am

    I was assuming Lake Winnipeg empties out in turn. Was I wrong?

  6. CGHill »

    26 March 2009 · 11:51 am

    There’s an outlet to the Bay, but it’s the Nelson River. (And given the sheer size of Lake Winnipeg — about 9500 square miles — I don’t think we can argue that the Nelson is in any way a continuation of the Red.)

  7. CGHill »

    27 March 2009 · 3:21 pm

    Now the bad news: they’re forecasting 42 feet.

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