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Heavy September rains set records in western ND, prompt concerns about spring flooding
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Heavy September rains set records in western ND, prompt concerns about spring flooding

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Umbrellas have been a common site this month, the second-rainiest September on record in Bismarck, with more than 5.5 inches of rain. For the year so far the city has received more than 24 inches, which is 9 inches of precipitation above normal.

The last day of September was wet, breezy and chilly in Bismarck, a fitting end to a month when the rain rarely seemed to let up.

The wet weather broke several precipitation records across the western part of the state in September, and it led to flooding in some areas.

It’s already prompting concerns that more flooding could come next year if the ground is saturated by water when it inevitably freezes. The soil in North Dakota tends to freeze for the winter by mid- to late-November, said Allen Schlag, hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Bismarck.

“This is one of the factors that oftentimes leads to increased runoff and flooding in the springtime, to have these really wet soils going into the fall,” he said. “We’re keeping a close eye on that one.”

He said snowfall and melting conditions also affect the severity of spring flooding.

Nearly every major stream in western North Dakota has “significant flow” right now, which is unusual for this time of year, Schlag said.

The conditions remind him of a similar rainy season in 2008 that caused small streams to overflow the following year. Beulah and Hazen experienced flooding from the Knife River, as did Linton from Beaver Creek.

“That was an early, wet fall, but nothing like what we’re seeing right now,” Schlag said.

Bismarck experienced its second-rainiest September on record this year with more than 5.5 inches of rain, according to figures from the weather service. The past month was eclipsed only by the September of 1977, when 6.93 inches fell on the city. Bismarck already has seen 24 inches of rain since Jan. 1, which is 9 inches more than normal for this time of year.

Williston and Minot both set rainfall records for September, with 8 inches and 7.5 inches, respectively, as of Sept. 29.

The rain led to flooding and road closures this month in the eastern part of the state, particularly in the Grand Forks area. Western North Dakota has not experienced the same magnitude of impacts, though heavy rains two weekends ago caused problems in Grant County along gravel roads and bridges as water ate away at the fill behind the bridge supports.

The county has been trying to keep up with repairs, and all roads are currently open, Grant County risk manager Patrick Diehl said.

“This is North Dakota; you almost come to expect it,” he said.

Managers of waterways have been keeping close tabs on water levels and making adjustments when necessary, including at Lake Tschida. On Friday, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation increased water releases from the Heart Butte Dam there in an effort to lower the level of the lake. The agency plans to keep releases elevated until the end of the week, at which point they would be scaled back to allow farmers time to cross the Heart River to access fields on the other side.

Farmers, meanwhile, have faced a challenging harvest. The rain has prevented some from getting into their fields, and it’s diminished crop quality. Some farmers have had to resort to expensive grain dryers to process wet crops.

One silver lining, at least, is the fall wildfire season.

“That just really hasn’t materialized this year,” Schlag said.

The fall months tend to be dry and prone to wildfires, as is the case in the spring after the snow melts but before the landscape greens.

(Reach Amy R. Sisk at 701-250-8252 or amy.sisk@bismarcktribune.com.)

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