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Freeze-thaw in Kittson County a favorable scenario this spring

By Anna Jauhola
Over the last couple of weeks, Kittson County has been experiencing a classic freeze-thaw spring. Considering how much snow fell this winter — between 40 and 60 inches — that is probably the most favorable scenario possible. Not only will it help prevent any extensive flooding, the slow melt will give soils a chance to recover moisture as water sits a little longer.
Greg Gust, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, said the next couple of weeks will show a cool-down, but the average daily temperature will steadily get warmer. This week might bring some rain showers early on, but then around the end of the month, the area could experience a hard freeze, Gust said.
The freeze-thaw cycle coupled with the deep snowpack around the county will contribute to some flooding.
“Because of that snowpack and the differential thawing, you’re going to have some interesting things happen,” Gust said. “Some areas are opening up, but still you’re going to have more snow and pluggy ditches and streams, and other areas. You may get areas that open up black soil and the water doesn’t move off the landscape.”
He said water sitting in place this spring may be a good thing, giving it a chance to soak in to help restore deeper soil moisture. He said modeling shows the top 3 to 6 feet of soil is drier than normal. In the western half of Kittson County, the soil is only a little drier than normal, whereas the eastern half of pasture and woodland is showing even drier conditions.
“We know our soils are near to slightly drier than normal across much of the Kittson County area and into western Roseau County,” Gust said. “So those areas have hold capacity. If we can get the snow to melt and sit in place as melt water, it’ll get a chance then for the ground to absorb more of it.”
Gust added the landscape will always capture some moisture from snow melt, and he expects with the deep snowpack this year, Kittson County could soak in at least an inch if not more. With that, he added the area could see a spring similar to a mix of 2019 and 2020.
In 2019, the southern Red River Valley experienced more flooding than in the north, but 2020 brought more water to the northern end of the valley.
“This year looks like it’s going to try and combine both of those,” Gust said. “And have a similar scale of water across both the north and the south. Most rivers and modeling I’ve looked at from overall snowpack would suggest a lot of similarities to 2020.”
So far, for instance, the National Weather Service predicts the Two Rivers at Hallock has a 60 percent chance of rising to 807.8 feet above sea level. In 2020, the Two Rivers reached 808.5 feet.
As the thaw continues, keep in mind there is a lot of snowpack across northwest Minnesota and northeast North Dakota, as well as southern Manitoba. With overall more snow melt than normal, there will be more flow from tributaries into the Red River — that includes overland, ditches and streams, like the Two Rivers.
Thankfully, the situation isn’t nearly like 2006 when the area got 1 to 2 inches of rain in the spring, the rivers opened up rapidly and the Two Rivers rose to 809.07 feet. In that year, Gust said, all points along the Red River hit major flood stage within a 24-hour period.
“Again, this is a pretty ideal melt scenario,” Gust said. “There’s likely to be water moving over the landscape and the dry soil should help us from getting an overwhelming situation. And the overall snowpack still is not in the realm of the historic floods.”

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