By Alex Laplaza
In late December, an unusual winter storm dropped ten inches of rain over a three-day period on the Midwest. The storm sent torrents of water into the upper Mississippi River and its tributaries, causing historic river crest levels and massive flooding across Missouri, southern Illinois, eastern Oklahoma, and Arkansas. By January, the Mississippi River and its tributaries began retreating. In its wake it left 25 dead, thousands displaced, and over $1 billion in damages. The costs of the flooding, already among the highest in U.S. history, is likely to rise once more inspections are completed.
Preliminary damage assessment information from federal and local officials and early insurance claims detail severe damage to roads, bridges, homes, public buildings, and farms. Transportation systems were particularly affected, disrupting rail lines, ferry services, and major interstate highways. According to Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, an estimated 7,100 structures in the state were affected by the flooding, resulting in as much as 500,000 tons of debris in the St. Louis area alone. The severe damages prompted a federal emergency declaration in Missouri, disaster declarations for 23 counties in Illinois, and the activation of the National Guard in both states.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) reported that nine levees had failed and an additional 19 levees were highly vulnerable to flooding. Damages to these levees are now competing with coastal projects for already scarce post-disaster funding.
Historically, flooding is an anticipated seasonal feature in many parts of the Mississippi River basin. However, this level of flooding in the Midwest and Mississippi Valley is not expected until the spring. Typically, the region’s winter is drier and receives more snow than rain. When the rains do come, they fall on the entire upper Mississippi and Missouri River Basin rather than just the St. Louis river basin.
Such levels of rainfall are highly unusual during the wintertime. According to the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Missouri picked up almost three times its average rainfall in November and December. The Mississippi River even set an all-time flood record of 48.86 feet, breaking a record set by the Midwest floods of 1993 – the most costly flooding event in U.S. history. Many link the unprecedented floods to heavy rains linked to El Niño weather pattern and climate change.
For more information, contact Alex Laplaza at firstname.lastname@example.org.