Before dikes or diversions, before coulees were straightened or fields were tiled, before flood forecasts were modeled, the flood of 1897 was the flood to which all other Red River floods were compared. That winter had been a terrible one, with a series of severe blizzards in November and plenty of snow and cold to follow throughout the winter. March 15 was the last of four days with the temperature at or below zero all day. The low on the morning of March 15 was 32 below zero, and the high that day was minus 2.
Suddenly, starting March 16, the weather turned into spring. Along with a rapid thaw, it rained nine of the next 21 days. The Red River crested in Fargo at an estimated 40.1 feet on April 7 that year.
Although the 2009 flood crested a few inches higher, different circumstances make a realistic comparison difficult. It is quite possible that the 1897 flood conditions would today create a flood far worse than the 2009 record flood.
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