Who Decides?
Forecasts and Responsibilities in the 1997 Red River Flood1

Roger A. Pielke, Jr.


Applied Behavioral Science Review
, 1999: 7(2), 83-101.


You unpredictable Red of the North,
You swelling cantankerous stream--

                                                 O. A. Olson2

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Abstract

In the spring of 1997 the Red River of the North (which flows north along the border of Minnesota and North Dakota into Canada) experienced extreme flooding. Catastrophic damages resulted in Grand Forks, ND and East Grand Forks, MN with losses estimated at over $2 billion. Immediately following the event, local, state, and federal officials began pointing fingers at flood predictions as a factor leading to the damages. For several months prior to the flooding the National Weather Service had predicted a flood crest of 49 feet at East Grand Forks. The actual flood crest was 54 feet. What role did the flood predictions play in the disaster? This paper analyzes the use and misuse of flood forecasts in the flood of 1997 in the Red River of the North.


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