If there is one clear-cut sign that flood season is upon us, it is this – the River Whisperer has offered his first prediction. Yes, that is correct – Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker has surveyed the landscape and his crest prediction (as of yesterday) is 32 feet.
The River Whisperer has spoken and all is well in the land, because we believe Denny when he talks about river crests. He has, after all, been a fairly good predictor in the past. No one is quite sure why he has been able to get it right over and over again, but the fact that he has been right has silenced many naysayers.
Of course, 32 feet is still considered major flood stage, even if it has become a fairly easy phenomenon for Fargo to deal with. It is when we start moving closer to 40 that the beads of sweat start to develop on folks’ foreheads. But Denny doesn’t sweat – he drives a hundred or so miles of the river and observes and somehow he knows whether Mother Nature will be giving us a run for our money or not.
The bulk of his fame as the River Whisperer came in 2009 when his prediction for the crest was seemingly more accurate than the National Weather Service’s prediction. Since then, Denny’s predictions are news. Locals take solace in his assessment and I imagine local government holds its collective breath and hopes that he is right once again.
I find the whole process fascinating, but as someone who is engaged in risk assessment I worry. I worry about the potential for flooding each spring, but even more so, I worry about Denny being wrong one year and it having a detrimental effect on the community. Let’s face it – for better or worse, many people are banking on Denny’s predictions. Folks will be more or less concerned with the risk based on his lead.
Right now, we are predicted to get to major flood stage with a high probability (88%). That prediction is based on science (thank you National Weather Service). Fortunately, the risk of having a 2009-like flood event is presently viewed as very unlikely by all of our local predictors. However, these predictions can change quickly based on a number of factors; so, don’t make the mistake of thinking we have dodged a bullet yet again until we are beyond the melt and the early spring rain.
I cannot tell a lie (well, at least not here) – I like Denny’s number this year and given his history of success I feel some happiness in hearing it. Alas, the day may come when the River Whisperer’s predictions are wrong. Hedge your bets folks – hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst. And if Denny says it is going to be over 38 feet – you better listen. Because if there is one thing Denny is not – it is an alarmist.
Day one thousand three hundred and forty-five of the new forty – obla di obla da