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Scientific Investigations Report 2010–5225

Prepared in cooperation with the North Dakota State Water Commission

2009 Spring Floods in North Dakota, Western Minnesota, and Northeastern South Dakota

By Kathleen M. Macek-Rowland and Tara A. Gross

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In 2009, record-breaking snowfalls and additional spring moisture caused severe flooding in parts of the Missouri River and Red River of the North (Red River) Basins in North Dakota, Minnesota, and South Dakota. There were 48 peak of record stages and 36 discharges recorded at U.S. Geological Survey streamgages located in both basins between March 20 and May 15, 2009. High water continued to affect many communities up and down the rivers' main stems and tributaries for nearly 2 months.

Record snowfall for single-day totals, as well as monthly totals, occurred throughout the Missouri River and Red River of the North Basins. Additional moisture in the spring as well as the timing of warmer temperatures caused record flooding in many places in both basins with many locations reporting two flood crests.

Ice jams on the Missouri River, located north and south of Bismarck, N. Dak., caused flooding. Southwest Bismarck was evacuated as rising waters first began inundating homes in low-lying areas along the river and then continued flowing into the city's lower south side. On March 24, 2009, the peak stage of the Missouri River at Bismarck, N. Dak. streamgage was 16.11 feet, which was the highest recorded stage since the completion of Garrison Dam in 1954. South of Bismarck, the Missouri River near Schmidt, N. Dak. streamgage recorded a peak stage of 24.24 feet on March 25, 2009, which surpassed the peak of record of 23.56 feet that occurred on December 9, 1976. While peak stage reached record levels at these streamgages, the discharge through the river at these locations did not reach record levels. The record high stages resulted from ice jams occurring on the Missouri River north and south of the cities of Bismarck and Mandan.

At the Red River of the North at Fargo, N. Dak. streamgage, the Red River reached a record stage of 40.84 feet surpassing the previous peak of record stage of 39.72 feet set in 1997. The associated peak streamflow of 29,500 cubic feet per second exceeded the previous peak of record set in 1997 by 1,500 cubic feet per second. For the cities of Fargo, and Moorhead, Minn., and the surrounding area, the stage of the Red River remained above flood stage for nearly 2 months.

In addition to high stage and flow on the main-stem Missouri and Red Rivers, peak of record stage and discharge were recorded at many U.S. Geological Survey streamgages in the Missouri River and Red River Basins. Several reservoirs and lakes in the region also experienced record stage elevations from the high flows during the 2009 spring snowmelt floods.

First posted April 28, 2011

For additional information contact:
Director, North Dakota Water Science Center
821 E. Interstate Ave.
Bismarck, ND 58503
(701) 250–7400

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Suggested citation:

Macek-Rowland, K.M., and Gross, T.A., 2011, 2009 Spring floods in North Dakota, western Minnesota, and northeastern South Dakota: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2010–5225, 41 p.




Flood Recurrence

Climatology of the Missouri River and Red River of the North Basins

Meteorological Conditions in 2008–09

2009 Spring Floods



Selected References


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