GRAND FORKS — An urgent winter storm warning was issued for northeastern North Dakota and northwest Minnesota Wednesday afternoon, April 1, as the National Weather Service monitors a system that could bring 4 to 6 inches of ice and snow Wednesday night into Friday afternoon. Blizzard conditions are not expected, but winds gusting to 35 mph will cause blowing and drifting snow in open areas into Thursday night.
The snowy weather will make travel very difficult, and travelers should expect hazardous conditions through Friday. Flooded ditches in the Red River Basin also make slippery roads even more dangerous, according to the NWS. If enough ice develops before the turnover to snow, power lines may be impacted in the Red River Valley.
Grand Forks and East Grand Forks officials expect the coming precipitation to impact the flood crest, which is expected sometime next week. In preparation for the rising water levels, Sorlie Bridge on DeMers Avenue was closed Wednesday afternoon.
"The flood outlook has gone up in the past couple of days," Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown said during the city's virtual update on Wednesday.
Heaviest impacts of the storm are expected to be felt from Ada, Minn., to Mayville and Cavalier, N.D., to Warroad, Minn. All of eastern North Dakota and northwestern and west-central Minnesota will be impacted by the storm, according to a report issued by the NWS.
Warmer temperatures are expected to last into Thursday, when temperatures are expected to drop below freezing early Friday morning. Temperatures will hit their lowest point in the teens Saturday, when they are expected to begin trending upward again.
According to a special weather statement by the NWS, this storm system is particularly difficult to monitor due to its "complex nature."
"At this time of the year, it's generally going to be rain throughout the central Northern Plains, but somewhere it's transitioning to snow up here," NWS Warning Coordination Meteorologist Gregory Gust said Wednesday morning. "So the issue is where the transition to snow is."
Gust said locally, the biggest question is how the late-week precipitation will impact flood levels. With the Red River at Grand Forks expected to crest sometime next week, Gust said the late-week precipitation likely won't significantly raise projected flood levels. But it could make the crest last longer than initially predicted.
Models run Wednesday show the Red River in Grand Forks cresting sometime next week at about 47 feet. Major flooding in Grand Forks begins at 46 feet. For comparison, the river last year crested at 46.99 feet.
On Wednesday morning, the river in Grand Forks surpassed 30 feet, and all access points were closed to the public as rising water levels, ice jams and debris in the river create unsafe conditions for pedestrians, according to a release from the Grand Forks County Sheriff's Office.
"If we get mainly snow, it's not going to be much of a concern," Gust said late Wednesday afternoon. "If it would have all come as rain, there would have been a lot more overland flooding issues to contend with. At this point, we probably won't add too much of that to the mix, but there will be a little. A little rural flooding may increase, but that's probably something to talk about down the road here."