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WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - The Red River rose three feet on Tuesday, getting closer to causing major flooding at Fargo, North Dakota for the second straight spring in the key U.S. wheat-growing state.
The Red River rose 3 feet in one day to 28.2 feet by Tuesday afternoon and was expected to reach the major flooding stage of 30 feet by midnight Tuesday, said Greg Gust, warning co-ordination meteorologist for the U.S. National Weather Service.
Volunteers and National Guard troops were placing sandbags on dikes in North Dakota while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built dikes of dirt and clay.
The river has risen nearly 10 feet in three days as mild temperatures melted deep snowpack earlier than expected, flooding some city parks and forcing closure of a few streets. Water washed over the ends of one bridge, but no homes were flooded by mid-Tuesday afternoon, said City of Fargo spokeswoman Karena Carlson.
Once the river reaches 34 to 35 feet later this week, much of downtown Fargo will rely on dikes to stay dry, Gust said.
Fargo is the largest city in the Red River Valley, which straddles North Dakota and Minnesota.
Ice in the river between Wahpeton, North Dakota, and Fargo slightly slowed the river's rise in Fargo and pushed the forecast crest to late Saturday or early Sunday, Gust said. The Weather Service still forecasts the crest to be 37-39 feet in Fargo.
"Obviously, this is all coming in very quickly, so (the delay) gives folks just a little bit of breathing room, not much," Gust said.
Sunshine and mild temperatures Wednesday and Thursday will likely melt remaining snowpack in the south Red River Valley in North Dakota, Gust said.
Last spring, flooding and an April snowstorm killed an estimated 80,000 head of cattle in North Dakota, whose herd ranks No. 17 in the United States.
A snowstorm is still possible with flooding coming earlier than last year. But more ranchers probably moved hay supplies closer to cattle ahead of flooding this year, said Dr. Charlie Stoltenow, extension veterinarian at North Dakota State University.
"Our producers are much better forewarned this year," Stoltenow said.
Earlier flooding also gives soil more time to dry before North Dakota farmers start planting spring wheat in mid-April. The state is the top U.S. producer of spring wheat and durum, and the Red River Valley is a major production area.
The Red River flows north into the Canadian province of Manitoba. The Canadian Wheat Board, which markets all of Western Canada's wheat and malting barley, said on Monday that it was ordering additional rail cars to certain southern Manitoba elevators to allow farmers to move grain from areas that were forecast to flood.
An intense storm was forecast to bring heavy snow to Kansas on Friday and Saturday, with snow and rain reaching Iowa and Wisconsin on Saturday, said Allen Motew, meteorologist at QT Information Systems in Chicago. Wet snow should reach Wisconsin, northern Illinois and Michigan on Sunday.
Additional precipitation will worsen flooding of several rivers in Iowa and Minnesota, Gust said.
"That's certainly cause for concern," he said.
The storm should leave 0.3-1.5 inches (7.6-38 millimeters) of precipitation in the western Midwest, likely delaying transportation of hogs to markets, said Joel Burgio, a forecaster at DTN Meteorlogix.
Moderate rain changing to snow should make feedlots in southwest Kansas and northern Texas sloppy by the weekend, adding to cattle stress, Burgio said.
The storm moves into Michigan on Sunday, leaving snow behind from Missouri to Wisconsin, Motew said.
Reporting by Rod Nickel; Editing by David Gregorio