Water Resources of North Dakota

Relations Between Upper-Air Flow Patterns, Climate, and Hydrologic Variability in the Red River of the North Basin in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan

By Gregg J. Wiche, John L. Knox, and L. E. Welsh

Abstract: Proceedings of the U.S. Geological Survey Global Change Forum, Reston, Virginia, March 18-21 1991



The Red River of the North drains about 290,000 square kilometers in the United States and Canada. The Red River of the North and some of its tributaries are international streams that are managed in accordance with provisions of the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty between the United States and Canada. CO2-induced climate change could have an adverse effect on streamflow regimen, and changes in streamflow regimen could create difficult interstate and international legal problems. The purpose of this study is to investigate the hydrologic response of the Red River of the North and its tributaries to past climatic anomalies. The objectives of the study are to: (1) analyze 50-kPa atmospheric pressure height and 50- to 100-kPa atmospheric thickness patterns for the northern hemisphere associated with extreme wet and dry periods in the Red River of the North basin during 1947-89, (2) assess differences between upper-air patterns that accompany wet and dry periods, (3) statistically compare surface climate variables to upper-air flow patterns and streamflow of the Red River of the North and its tributaries during wet and dry periods and, (4) assess circulation controls that lead to anomalies in upper-air flow patterns associated with wet and dry periods. A review of 200 years of flood information on the Red River of the North at Winnipeg indicates that several major floods during the 1800's were larger than any floods that occurred during 1947-89. Streamflow data from the main-stem gaging stations on the Red River of the North indicate that low-flow conditions during the 1930's were more extreme than during 1947-89. Although the upper-air data (1947-89) can be used to describe the relations indicated in the objectives, the results may not be complete because they may not represent the most extreme climatic conditions that have occurred during the last 200 years. Preliminary analysis of the 50-kPa anomalous pressure patterns for December-January indicates that extreme dry periods are associated with the amplification of a high pressure ridge over western North America that brings dry, adiabatically heated air into the Red River of the North basin. In contrast, analysis of anomalous pressure patterns indicates that extreme wet periods are associated with amplification of a trough over western North America that brings moisture-laden air from the southern and central United States into the Red River of the North basin.

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