1997 Red River Flood


Floodplain Mitigation

Flood Hazards and Terms


Cause and Effect

        Grand Forks is a city located along the Red River -which is the border between North Dakota and Minnesota.  The Red River cuts through the Glacial Lake Agassiz and is one of the flattest land areas anywhere.  The former lake bed now serves as the floodplain for the Red River.                                                       



            Location of the Red River and Grand Forks, N.D.

Source: http://www.cnn.com/WEATHER/9704/23/flood.update.am/


    The Grand Forks area experienced the worst blizzards on record in the winter of 1996-1997.  Eight blizzards dropped 98.6 inches of snow in Grand Forks.

The table below shows the amount of snow fall that came with each blizzard.








Nov. 16-17

12 in.

13.6 in.


Dec. 16-17

8.7 in.

38.2 in.


Dec. 20

4.2 in.

42.4 in.


Jan. 9-11

8.8 in.

56.5 in.


Jan 14-16

0.4 in.

57.1 in.


Jan 22-23

8.6 in.

67.4 in.


March 4

0.2 in.

83.3 in.


April 4-6

6.3 in.

97.4 in.


Total: 98.6 in.

       Data taken from Grand Forks Herald


   In response to this huge snowfall the National Weather Service (NWS) put out warnings in February that a flood due to spring snow melt was most likely for the Red River.  The NWS predicted the crest to reach 49 feet and didn't raise this prediction until April 13th five days before the start of the flood.  There are speculations that  the NWS could have made better flood crest predictions.  The city of Grand Forks could have prepared themselves better if more accurate predictions would have been made.  The city fortified it's dyke system by sandbagging the dyke to 52 feet

    Spring thaw began and the river over topped the sand bags of 52 feet with a height of 52.19 feet on April 18th.  By mid afternoon on the same day Grand Forks had about 300 homes in water up to their roof tops.

    The river crested at a peak height of 54.44 feet (28 feet above flood level) well above the NWS predictions, on April 21st.  At this time 52,000 of the Grand Forks residents had been evacuated and 75% of the city was flooded. The peak discharge reached140,000 cubic feet/second (780 is normal).





The Red River over tops the sandbagged dykes April 18th 1997.

Source:  http://www.geo.mtu.edu/department/classes/ge404/mlbroder/during.html



Street Sign almost under water in a Grand Forks Neighborhood.

Source:  http://www.enterstageright.com/archive/articles/012901grandforks1997flood.jpg 





    The downtown area experienced fires due to flood waters causing an electrical fire.  The floodwater prevented the firefighters from reaching the buildings, even if they had been able to reach the buildings there was no pressure in the hydrants.  Fire retardant was sprayed from the air via planes and eventually stopped the fires but, not until 11 buildings in historic downtown Grand Forks had been destroyed.

       Grand Forks suffered 86,000 homes with damage (75% of total homes) and 1616 apartments were damaged (28% of total apartments).  The city had almost two billion dollars in damage.  The residents had to sit through 13 days without running water and 26 days without drinkable water.  Fortunately there was no loss of life in the flood.   


Boats used to get around in Grand Forks, N.D.

Source: http://nd.water.usgs.gov/index/boats_in_town.html


The Sorlie Bridge between Grand Forks, North Dakota, and East Grand Forks, Minnesota, during the 1997 Red River of the North flood

Source: http://nd.water.usgs.gov/index/photo5.html



Buildings effected by fires in downtown Grand Forks

Source: http://www.forester.net