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13 Facts About Fargo ND

This is a trivia sort of post today for Thursday 13, all dealing with Fargo, North Dakota. The information here is true to the best of my knowledge, but I wouldn’t use it as documentation for a school report or anything like that. ūüôā The fact is, I love Fargo. This is the place where I call home. It’s not the most beautiful spot on earth (unless you like perfectly flat land with few trees) but it is home, with some of the finest people on earth. Of course, we have crime and people who behave badly, but our crime rate is hugely lower than other places. How many cities can count the annual murder rate¬†on 1 or 2 fingers, and sometimes on no fingers?

1. Fargo is the largest city in North Dakota, with a population of about 100,000. I think Bismarck is a little smaller than that.

2. Fargo sits on the Red River of the North, one of the few rivers in the world that flows directly north (with lots of little twisty turns along the way).

3. The average high temperature in January is 14 F, the average low is -3 F. The average high in July is 83 F, the average low is 60 F. ¬†The lowest temperature ever recorded was -48 F with a windchill of -103 F. (per old style wind chill formula) The highest temp ever recorded was 114 F. We have a very wide range of temps. Fargo¬† holds the distinction of being voted the¬†toughest weather city in America by the Weather Channel. We’re strangely proud of that.

4. Last night, Feb 7, 2011 the windchill was -32 F, although the actual temp was -11 F. This is very normal for us because we have continuous wind. In fact, the news actually makes mention of when the wind is calm because it is so unusual.

5. Fargo was founded in 1871, only six years after the Civil War ended, but for decades before that it was a (very small) stop on the Red River Cart trail that went from St Cloud MN to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Most carts went further north of Fargo, where the river was wider and deeper and steamboats could go. Fargo was first called Centralia, but the name was changed to Fargo, after the director of the Wells Fargo Express company.

6.¬† In the 1880s Fargo’s laws allowed for quick and easy divorces, and it became known as the Divorce Capital of the US. Famous people came to Fargo to get their divorces.

7. The Red River Valley is actually the bed of an ancient glacier lake called Lake Aggasiz. As the glacier pushed and retreated hundreds of times over many years, it¬†left behind¬†some of the richest soil in the world. Little children in our region use black crayons to color dirt because that is the color the dirt in the fields is. I always do a double take when I’m driving in other areas and see tan or reddish dirt in the fields.

8. In 1920, 75.4% of the residents in Fargo were of German and/or¬†Scandinavian descent, and 12% did not speak fluent¬†English. Even 20 years ago the residents of old folks’ homes chatted easily with one other in Norwegian or German.¬†Today, if you go to Fargo restaurant 70% of the heads will be blond. 20% will have light to mid brown hair.¬†The Royalty of Norway have historically¬†visited Minnesota and North Dakota¬†as often¬†as they do Washington DC.¬†Way back in the beginning of the 20th century, the Crown Prince of Norway gave the commencement speech at a local college. As an Italian-American, I stand out like a sore thumb here. When I went back to Milwaukee for a family funeral I couldn’t believe how many dark haired people there were.

9. Famous Fargoans include Johnny Lang, Bobby Vee, Roger Maris, Charlie Korsmo.¬†Kevin Sorbo, who played Hercules, went to school in the area.¬† (I had two college classes with Kevin Sorbo at MSU) And of course, there was that movie with Frances McDormand and Steve Buscemi called Fargo–which had to be filmed elsewhere because we didn’t have enough snow that year.

FloodingWhen you live on a river, spring time revolves around protecting oneself and one’s property from the flooded river. Flood stage in Fargo is 18 feet. We always have some degree of flooding, but one expects it to be mild enough for the permanent dike to hold the water off. Perhaps a few of the streets right on the river will be closed, but it’s nothing major.

10. We’ve had many major floods in Fargo, the recordable ones starting in 1897. The first “big one” I remember was in 1997. The river crested at a record¬†39.5 feet. That is the year that¬†pretty much the¬†entire city of Grand Forks, 65 miles downstream from us,¬†was lost. ¬†It was called the 500 year flood, and was predicted to not happen again in our lifetime.

11. In 2009, only 12 years later, we had a our second 500 year flood. We take protecting our city very seriously.¬†Everyone pitches in.¬†Schools were cancelled. Businesses closed. All students and workers joined the flood fight. Water and toilet flushing was rationed. Limited laundry was allowed. There is nothing like having sand stuck to your sweaty body and not be able to take a long hot shower. The likelihood of losing the lift stations was high, so we couldn’t use water.¬†The crest was first predicted to be 41 feet. Then 42 feet. We filled millions of sandbags and we won the fight against the river. We were lucky that it didn’t go over 41 feet. Our sandbag dikes were only 42 feet high. We lost a few neighborhoods.¬†But we saved our city.¬† http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=4896558n¬†


12. The third 500 year flood was in 2010. The crest, which would have terrified us a few years earlier but now seemed old hat, was 36.99. Again, we fought for our city by filling a couple million sandbags and building our miles of dikes.  It was hard work, and some of our best workers were not there since the collegees were on spring break at the time and due to overland flooding they could not get back to the city, but we persevered and won.

13.¬† The flood of 2011 is predicted to be higher than that of 2009. Already businesses are making arrangements to have employees bussed to Sandbag Central for 4-hour shifts to fill sandbags on company time. My company is manning the spiders (sandbag machines) on Feb 21st and 28th. I’ve signed up for the 8-12 shift on the 21st. We’ve always won the flood fights before.

Fargo is a great place to live in spite of the sometimes horrid weather and floods. We’re not perfect, but we have a lot of good things going for us. Unemployment is low. Crime is low. Generosity is high. So what’s cool or special about your town?

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