Officials in North Dakota say it's time for property owners in flood-prone areas of the Red River Valley to think about buying flood insurance.
The push comes as early signs suggest a heightened risk of flooding this spring. The Red River Basin in eastern North Dakota has seen record precipitation totals for the fall and winter period starting on Sept. 1, National Weather Service spokesman Greg Gust said Friday after the agency released its first flood outlook of the season.
This year's flood could be a top five event, although it's still too early to predict hard numbers and "much is left to be determined," Gust said.
The state Water Commission and Department of Emergency Services have scheduled flood preparation meetings next week in Fargo, Grand Forks and Jamestown that will focus on insuring homes and other structures. Representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and weather service will be on hand to give advice about flood preparation.
The last time the state held similar sessions was in 2016.
"In North Dakota we kind of just plan them based on our feelings on what the spring is going to look like and predictions that are out there," said Dionne Haynes, the state's National Flood Insurance Program coordinator.
Homeowners who live in areas deemed by federal officials to be at high risk for flooding are required to purchase insurance. But homeowners outside of the official flood plain should also consider insuring their property in time for spring flooding, Haynes said.
"We tend to believe that everybody lives in a flood plain," Haynes said. "It's just the level of risk that's different."
The average flood insurance policy in North Dakota is about $700 a year, Haynes said. Residents in low to moderate risk areas will pay about $200 less, she said.
The Fargo and Moorhead, Minnesota area, which has a population of about 230,000 people, has long struggled with flooding due to the flat topography of the Red River Valley. It took a frantic sandbagging effort to protect the cities in 2009 when the river crested at an all-time high of about 41 feet. The 1997 spring flood devastated the northern basin cities of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, Minnesota.
The current snowpack and water content across the basin in already at average winter season totals, Gust said, noting a record average of 29.15 inches of moisture recorded in the valley last year. While February's snowfall should be at normal levels, the expectation of above average precipitation and cold weather in March and April could lead to the dreaded late thaw, he said.
"The not so good news is there is lots of winter yet to go," Gust said.