FARGO, N.D. -- There is an increased risk of flooding along major rivers and their tributaries in parts of the Great Plains and Upper Midwest this spring due to unusually heavy snowfall over the winter and other factors, forecasters said Thursday.
Towns and cities in an area stretching from North Dakota south to Missouri and east to Wisconsin are keeping a close eye on swollen waterways, and some have begun preparing sandbags and taking other precautions in case they are needed.
The amount of flooding will depend greatly on how quickly the snow and ice floating on rivers melts across the region.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday that it expects 112 percent of the normal amount of runoff water to flow into Missouri River reservoirs this year. Those reservoirs have their capacity to store floodwaters, if needed, and releases of water from the reservoirs can be adjusted.
Meanwhile, there is a 50 percent chance that the Red River will reach its major flood stage of 35 feet in Fargo, North Dakota, and Moorhead, Minnesota, the National Weather Service said. Those neighboring cities have been trying to improve their defenses since a record flood 10 years ago.
Reaching 35 feet would be 4 feet higher than the most recent flooding outlook, which was issued last month. The threat is expected to worsen with the expected arrival of two storms in the next week that will dump plenty of moisture.
"It really depends on March," Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney said. "We're a little bit concerned at this point, but it's perfectly able to be handled right now."
Since the 2009 flood, when the Red River crested at about 41 feet, Fargo and Moorhead have been working to reduce the threat by buying out homes in the most vulnerable areas and building levees. Now, Fargo would need to start sandbagging in certain areas at 38 feet. Greg Gust, a weather service forecaster, said at the current predicted river levels, Fargo would have to shut down a couple of roads, a bridge and "maybe test some of the flood walls."
The weather service also warns of an elevated flooding risk in Nebraska and Iowa this year due to this winter's heavy snowfall, wet soil, and rivers and streams that are already running high.
Earl Imler, of the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, said huge chunks of ice could cause flooding along several Nebraska rivers this spring, but it depends on how quickly the weather warms up. The more slowly the temperatures increase this spring, the better.
"What we're hoping for is that Mother Nature will cooperate and give us a moderate warm-up," Imler said.
Iowa officials said they have prepositioned pumps, sandbags and other flood-fighting equipment throughout the state so that they'll be ready to respond quickly, if necessary. Lucinda Parker with Iowa Homeland Security said her agency is monitoring conditions closely.
Officials are also warning about the threat of flooding has increased in the snow-packed regions of western Wisconsin and central and southern Minnesota. The weather service estimates there is at least a 50 percent chance that the Minnesota, Crow, St. Croix and Mississippi rivers will reach their major flood stages. The threat along the Mississippi River is for areas south of St. Paul, Minnesota.
Funk reported from Omaha, Nebraska.