The fact that the country is at risk for unprecedented flooding won’t come as a surprise to people in the midwest, where areas in several states, including Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri, and Iowa are already underwater.
In an assessment released today by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), it is estimated that more than 200 million people across the country will be at risk for some flooding, with 41 million at risk for moderate flooding and 13 million at risk for major flooding. According to National Weather Service deputy director Mary Erickson, what is happening in the midwest is only a preview of what’s to come.
“In fact, we expect the flooding to get worse and more widespread,” Erickson said. The flooding this spring could be “even worse than the historic floods of 1993 and 2011,” which caused billions of dollars in damage.
The greatest risk of flooding include all three Mississippi River basins, the basins of the eastern Missouri, Ohio, lower Cumberland, and Tennessee Rivers, the Great Lakes, and the Red River of the North.
Thomas Graziano, director of the Office of Water Prediction and a 20-year national weather service veteran told AP News that this is “the broadest expanse of an area in the United States” that has seen an elevated flood risk projection that he can remember.
In addition to the issues with flooding, above average rainfall in the Tennessee and Ohio River Valleys is expected to bring more farm runoff down the Mississippi River. According to NOAA National Water Center director Edward Clark, his could lead to an increase in the number of areas in the Gulf of Mexico that have become oxygen-starved and will result in a larger than usual dead zone this summer, which could put a strain on the Louisiana and coastal fishing industry.
While NOAA was careful to say that it’s too early to determine if climate change played a role in the flooding, these conditions are consistent with what is expected as a result of rising global temperatures. “You can think of climate change as steroids for these rain events,” said Texas A&M University climate scientist Andrew Dessler.
The Mississippi River here in New Orleans remains near flood stage; according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, they have been in a continuous flood fight since late October 2018. On Feb. 27, they made the decision to open the Bonnet Carre Spillway in order to relieve pressure on the New Orleans levees. This was the third time in the last four years they have felt the need to take this step.
While the waters from the current flooding in the midwest aren’t expected to arrive for several more weeks, officials don’t believe that the river will rise much above the 44.18 ft crest it hit earlier this week.
Jenn Bentley is a writer and editor originally from Cadiz, Kentucky. Her writing has been featured in publications such as The Examiner, The High Tech Society, FansShare, Yahoo News, and others. When she’s not writing or editing, Jenn spends her time raising money for Extra Life and advocating for autism awareness.