As many local readers know, Leon Osborne passed away last week. Many people may be less familiar with his role in helping the community of Grand Forks during the devastating 1997 flood. We were fortunate that he was willing to contribute to David Haeselin’s (ed.) Haunted by Waters which we published earlier this year on the 20th anniversary of the Grand Forks flood of 1997.
David offers this reflection on Osborne’s role in the 1997 flood.
Leon Osborne was more than just North Dakota’s weatherman. His role in more accurately predicting the Red River’s water level during the Flood of 1997 is well known, but his personal sacrifice in keeping the Advanced Traveler Weather Information System (ATWIS) and the UND Regional Weather Information Center (RWIC) during the worst of the flood is less so. Putting aside the threat to his own family and his own home, Osborne and one other colleague alone manned these organizations from April 19 to April 28 in order to provide up-to-date weather information for travelers across the state. Osborne put himself at risk to help ensure the safety of people he would never meet.
I never had the chance to meet Osborne personally, but as I edited his recollection of these events for Haunted By Waters, I was struck by something. Osborne was used to writing from the objective perspective of a scientist. Throughout the first version of the essay, he referred to himself solely in the third person, even while recounting his decision to stay at the RWIC. These actions were nothing less than heroic, the kind of stuff that no one would blame you for bragging about. Yet, he related them via the dispassionate, passive voice common to scientific writing. This modesty speaks volumes about the kind of man he must have been.