Flood of 1950
The floods of 1997 and 2009 set the bar for modern flooding on the Red River, but the river has a history of memorable floods.
In 1950, high soil moisture and ample winter snow had set the stage for flooding, and on this date in 1950, a storm brought snow everywhere except the southeast corner of the state, where it rained instead. The storm contributed to Fargo’s wettest March ever.
The Red River first rose in Wahpeton, where the damage was minor. As the crest arrived in Fargo, it filled Island and Oak Grove Parks. Businesses on Broadway suffered damage and the city set up pumps to keep its auditorium dry. A hundred families, mainly from Moorhead, evacuated as the flood topped 21 feet.
In Grand Forks, the flooded Red met a flooding Red Lake River, resulting in the worst damage since 1897, a situation exacerbated by six inches of wet snow that fell over Easter weekend. The river rose to 42 feet. Over 225 families evacuated. “A large, lake-like body of floodwater” spread from Grand Forks to Winnipeg that spring.
A second thaw about a month later brought another flood to Fargo about the same size as the first. A period of freezing and thawing followed in Grand Forks, and the river again crested. Some Grand Forks families had to evacuate twice. Two neighborhoods were badly damaged while downtown had many wet basements. Floodwater even got into underground circuits holding steam heating pipes that ran throughout the city. The steam had to be vented from tubes 10 feet above the streets so traffic could see through the steamy fog.
The flooding had also damaged communities farther north. Over 75 percent of residents in Pembina, North Dakota evacuated.
The 1950 flood lingered until June, when the last snow drifts finally melted in the Red River Valley.
Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura
Water Resources Division. (1952). Floods of 1950 in the red river of the north and winnipeg river basins. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office. Retrieved from: