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The slow-moving storm system that let loose 3 inches of rain over Fargo this week has prompted the National Weather Service to issue an unprecedented flood warning for the Red River in December.

"This was an unusual system. It dumped a lot of rain," said Brad Hopkins, meteorologist for the National Weather Service (NWS) in Grand Forks, N.D. "There was really no snowpack to absorb any of that water so it collected in the ditches and eventually flowed into the rivers."

Hopkins said Friday that he has pored over weather records as far back as he could and "unless there's something handwritten by observers in the late 1800s or early 1900s, I cannot find another instance where we've issued a river point flood warning in December."

The NWS warning issued Thursday for the Red River in Fargo estimated the river would rise above the flood stage of 18 feet Friday and potentially crest at 21 feet on Sunday.

Hopkins said Friday that the river will likely not reach the anticipated crest because the rate of ascent is slowing. By midafternoon Friday, the river was measured at 17.6 feet, which was just shy of the flood stage of 18 feet.

"It looks like it's starting to crest just under minor flood stage, but there's still that chance it could bump up right against it," Hopkins said.

Flooding of the Red River has wreaked havoc on the Fargo-Moorhead area in the past few decades, including the April 1997 flood that crested at nearly 40 feet. That flood displaced thousands of residents and devastated the Grand Forks area, ultimately causing about $4 billion in damage.

Since then, many communities at risk of flooding have implemented mitigation projects. In Fargo, the city purchased and removed more than 200 properties from high-risk areas, improved drainage and installed permanent levees and floodwalls.

When the Red River rises to 17 feet, as it did Friday, water creeps to the edge of the bike path along Elm Street N. in Fargo and crews set up cones to alert pedestrians of possible high water, according to Jody Bertrand, the city's storm utility division engineer. The city on Friday also closed Elm Street N. to traffic between 13th and 15th avenues.

"Operations-wise for the flood event, there's very little that changes until we get to a much higher [crest]," Bertrand said.

The forecast of dry weather in the coming days is giving folks peace of mind. And the region is still listed as abnormally dry.

"We're still hoping for some snowpack so we can get rid of the drought conditions," Bertrand said.

Hopkins said this rare December flood warning shouldn't serve as an indication for spring flooding.

"We've still got a long ways to go this winter," he said, noting long-range forecasts for the next three months hint at below-average precipitation.

"We may be starting the spring flood season on the drier side, which means the impacts would be lesser," he said. "But we'll be watching very closely as we get into the end of January and beginning of February."