Flooding that overwhelmed much of the interior United States is expected to resume in the next three months and soak communities along the Mississippi River and in the Great Plains for a second consecutive spring, a new National Weather Service river forecast shows.
The projected flooding through late April could damage roads and homes, stall levee repairs and force farmers to delay or forgo the planting major crops such as corn and soybeans because the soil would be too wet.
Extreme wet conditions in 2019, which were consistent with predictions of climate change, caused billions of dollars of damage and led farmers to avoid planting on 20 million acres—the most in a year since the Agriculture Department began keeping annual tallies in 2007.
“A lot of guys are thinking this is going to be a pretty tough year because of the leftover conditions,” said Scott VanderWal, president of the South Dakota Farm Bureau and a corn and soybean farmer.
South Dakota would be one of the hardest-hit states under the forecast. The weather service expects major flooding along the James River, which runs the length of the state from North Dakota to eastern Nebraska, where it meets the Missouri River. Sections of the James River in South Dakota have been above flood level for 11 consecutive months.
Major flooding also is expected along the Mississippi River in Minneapolis and at various points in Iowa and Illinois, and in North Dakota along the Red River of the North, the National Weather Service says.
Moderate flooding is forecast in 26 states, mostly along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and their tributaries, and in the Southeast and eastern Texas. There’s more than a 95% chance of moderate flooding near New Orleans.
The weather service forecast covers only riverine flooding and not coastal flooding caused by seawater. The agency will release its full spring flood forecast on Thursday.
The flooding is expected in large part because record precipitation in the past year has swelled rivers and left soils extremely wet and unable to absorb additional moisture. That’s forcing rain and snowmelt to flow into streams at an unusually high rate.
“The very wet soil conditions have greatly enhanced the chances for flooding in the eastern portion of the [Missouri River] Basin,” weather service hydrologist Kevin Low said during a conference call last week about basin conditions. “Almost the entire Missouri River Basin has an above-normal soil moisture condition. In the Dakotas, we’re in the 99th percentile.”
Four Upper Midwest States—Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin—experienced their wettest 12-month period on record between February 2019 and January, according to NOAA records that go back 125 years.
Five states—Montana, Nebraska, Wyoming and the Dakotas—saw the second-most precipitation in the past 12 months. And seven states—Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia—experienced their third-wettest 12-month period, NOAA records show.
John Remus, head of the Army Corps of Engineers’ Missouri River Basin water management office, said the ground absorbs water like a sponge. “Right now, the sponge is pretty wet in the Upper [Missouri River] Basin, so you’re not going to be able to get any water to soak in,” Remus said on the conference call.
The Missouri River Basin covers more than 500,000 square miles from western Montana to St. Louis, where the Missouri River meets the Mississippi. Heavy flooding in the basin last year caused billions of dollars of damage to levees and resulted in federal disasters being declared in 321 of the 411 counties in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.
In January, the amount of water flowing into the Upper Missouri River—above Sioux City, Iowa, in the state’s northwest corner—was nearly twice the normal level for January, the Army Corps reported last week. The runoff into the upper Missouri is expected to remain high for the rest of the year, which likely will contribute to flooding in the lower section of the river, along the Nebraska-Iowa line and across Missouri from Kansas City to St. Louis.
The National Weather Service’s recent forecast involves predicting the likelihood of flooding through April at 2,751 river gauges in the United States. The forecast predicts major flooding at 69 river gauges, moderate flooding at 123 gauges and minor flooding at 429 gauges.
Yesterday, there was minor flooding at 120 river gauges, moderate flooding at 18 river gauges and major flooding at five gauges.
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.