Associated Press

FARGO, N.D. — The Red River on Tuesday dropped to a level below most of Fargo’s sandbag levees, taking some pressure off the makeshift floodwalls as engineers and National Guard troops watched for signs of leaks during a blinding snowstorm.

The river fell to 37.98 feet, an important threshold because the city’s permanent levee system is built to about 38 feet in most spots, with temporary sandbags piled up to 43 feet.

Still, forecasters believe the river will eventually begin rising again after more snow begins to melt, so they do not believe the city is in the clear yet.

"This should give us a sigh of relief," Mayor Dennis Walaker said.


The National Weather Service said the bloated river is quickly draining because cold temperatures are limiting the amount of snow and ice that normally would melt and flow into the waterway.

But the storm added to the challenge of monitoring the dikes by producing a messy mix of mud and ice and dumping as much as 18 inches of snow.

Engineers in hard hats, life vests and steel-toe boots walked along earthen dikes, struggling to see through the blowing snow as they conducted inspections. In neighboring Moorhead, Minn., National Guardsmen went door to door in flood-prone areas to make sure sandbags were not leaking.

Trucks with snow plows rolled through Fargo despite having hardly any visibility. Snow blowers rumbled through the day. And cars slid all over the icy roads, including one driven by a teenager who slammed into a sheriff’s department vehicle and nearly plummeted into the river.

Homeowners kept a constant vigil over pumps to make sure ice did not clog discharge hoses.

"I lived in North Dakota all my life. After a while, you just get tired of it," said Ryan Such, 26, who was operating a pickup truck equipped with a plow. He had been out removing snow since 2 a.m.

The mayor’s message to the city was simple: "The word of the day is hunker, hunker down. That means stay snug in your areas and please do not travel."

Authorities also warned people to stay away from the dangerous river. Late Monday, a man was arrested for driving a snowmobile on a dike, and one brave soul was caught paddling a canoe up the river.


Earlier in the week, a woman got drunk and smashed her car into a levee and nearly tumbled into the river.

Fargo got some good news Tuesday when the snowstorm failed to kick up large waves against the levees — something that forecasters had been expecting. Winds rose to 30 mph in some parts but not enough to make major waves.

"Wave action right now looks pretty small," said Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Frank Worley. "The wind is blowing, the snow is blowing, but we’re not looking at 1-foot waves or anything like that."

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Red River at Fargo water levels:

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