Army Corps blows up levee to help fight unprecedented Mississippi River flood

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 4:47 PM GMT on May 03, 2011

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A brilliant string of explosions rippled across a two-mile length of the Mississippi River levee at Birds Point, Missouri at 10pm last night. As the levee disintegrated, a massive cascade of muddy brown water from the Father of Waters gushed into the crevasse, thundering with the flow of eight Niagara Falls. The waters quickly spread out over 133,000 acres of rich farmland, rushing southwards along the 35-mile long Birds Point-New Madrid Spillway. The levee that was destroyed--called a plug fuse levee--was designed to be destroyed in the event of a record flood. In a marathon 20-hour operation, 150 engineers from the Army Corps of Engineers packed 22 wells in the levee with explosives on Sunday and Monday. A raging thunderstorm with dangerous lightning halted the work for a time on Sunday night, as the engineers were pulled off the levee due to concerns about lightning. Final approval for the demolition occurred after a series of failed court challenges, brought by the Attorney General of Missouri, ended at the Supreme Court on Monday. Damage to the farmland and structures along the the Birds Point-New Madrid Spillway is estimated to cost $317 million due to the intentional breach of the levee. The fact that the Army Corps is intentionally causing 1/3 of billion dollars in damage is stark evidence of just how serious this flood is. The Birds Point levee has been demolished only once before, during the historic 1937 flood.


Figure 1. Still frame from an Army Corps of Engineers video of last night's demolition of the Birds Point levee on the Mississippi River.


Figure 2. The gauge on the Ohio River at Cairo was at record highs over the past few days, but the river level is now falling, thanks to the demolition of the Birds Point levee.

Unprecedented flooding on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers
Snow melt from this winter's record snow pack across the Upper Mississippi River has formed a pulse of flood waters that is moving downstream on the Mississippi. This pulse of flood waters passed St. Louis on Saturday, where the river is now falling. The snow melt pulse arrived on Monday at Thebes, Illinois, about 20 miles upstream from the Mississippi/Ohio River junction at Cairo. The Mississippi River crested yesterday at Thebes at 45.52', which beats 1993 as the 2nd highest Mississippi River flood of all-time at Thebes. This floodwater pulse is headed south to Cairo, Illinois, and will join with the record water flow coming out of the Ohio River to create the highest flood heights ever recorded on a long stretch of the Mississippi, according to the latest forecasts from the National Weather Service. Along a 400-mile stretch of the Mississippi, from Cairo to Natchez, Mississippi the Mississippi is expected to experience the highest flood heights since records began over a century ago at 5 of the 10 gauges on the river. Areas that are not protected by levees can expect extensive damage from the flooding, but the mainline levees on the Lower Mississippi are high enough so that the flood waters are predicted to stay at least 3 feet below the tops of the levees.

The Mississippi River at New Madrid, MO, about 40 miles downstream of the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, crested at 46.54' this morning, the 2nd highest flood in history. The river is now falling, thanks to the blowing of the Birds Point levee. Rains of up to ten inches over the past three days in the region have now ended, but this water will enter the river system over the next few days, increasing heights on the river once again. The Mississippi is predicted to rise to 50 feet late this week, two feet above the all-time record height of 48 feet. The NWS warns that at this height, "Large amounts of property damage can be expected. Evacuation of many homes and businesses becomes necessary." Previous record heights at this location:

(1) 48.00 ft on 02/03/1937
(2) 46+ ft on 05/03/2011
(2) 44.60 ft on 04/09/1913
(3) 43.60 ft on 04/04/1975
(4) 43.50 ft on 02/16/1950
(5) 42.94 ft on 03/17/1997


Figure 3. Radar-estimated rainfall near the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers totaled 4 - 10 inches over a wide area during the past three days.


Figure 3. Flooding on the Mississippi in Missouri at the end of April. Image credit: USACE.

The "Project Flood"
The levees on the Lower Mississippi River are meant to withstand a "Project Flood"--the type of flood the Army Corps of Engineers believes is the maximum flood that could occur on the river, equivalent to a 1-in-500 year flood. The Project Flood was conceived in the wake of the greatest natural disaster in American history, the great 1927 Mississippi River flood. Since the great 1927 flood, there has never been a Project Flood on the Lower Mississippi, downstream from the confluence with the Ohio River (there was a 500-year flood on the Upper Mississippi in 1993, though.) On Sunday, Major General Michael Walsh of the Army Corps of Engineers, President of the Mississippi Valley Commission, the organization entrusted to make flood control decisions on the Mississippi, stated: "The Project Flood is upon us. This is the flood that engineers envisioned following the 1927 flood. It is testing the system like never before."

At Cairo, the project flood is estimated at 2.36 million cubic feet per second (cfs). The current prediction for the flow rate at New Madrid, the Mississippi River gauge just downstream from Cairo, is 1.89 million cfs on May 7, so this flood is not expected to be a 1-in-500 year Project Flood. In theory, the levee system is designed to withstand this flood. But the Army Corps is in for the flood fight of its life, and it will be a long a difficult few weeks. Here's how Major General Michael Walsh of the Army Corps of Engineers described his decision yesterday to blow up the Birds Point levee:

"Everyone I have talked with--from boat operators, to labors, scientist and engineers, and truck drivers have all said the same thing--I never thought I would see the day that the river would reach these levels.

We have exceeded the record stage already at Cairo. We are on a course to break records at many points as the crest moves through the system. Sometimes people celebrate with "records"--but not this time. Making this decision is not easy or hard--it's simply grave-- because the decision leads to loss of property and livelihood--either in a floodway--or in an area that was not designed to flood. The state of Missouri has done a superb job of helping people escape the ravages of water in the floodway. But other places--not designed to flood have had no warning if their areas succumb to the pressures of this historic chocolate tide.

I spent last night on the river...lashed to an anchor barge in the current near the top of the floodway. The rains continued to pound the deck of the Motor Vessel. The cold winds moved us around--and the current and water levels kept increasing as the rain storms continue to grow over the Ar/Miss/Ohio/TN Watershed.

So, with the tool that has withstood many tests: the test of operation in 1937; decades of challenges that resulted in the 1986 Operation Plan; reviews and numerous unsuccessful court challenges--I have to use this tool. I have to activate this floodway to help capture a significant percentage of the flow.

I don't have to like it but we must use everything we have in our possession, in the system to prevent a more catastrophic event. So, today, I give the order to operate the Floodway."



Jeff Masters

Wappapello Spillway (KittenGotClaws)
Water going over the emergency spillway. A temp berm was built hoping to hold back the water but the extra rains we got pushed it over the edge.
Wappapello Spillway

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Display: 0, 50, 100, 200 Sort: Newest First - Order Posted

Viewing: 250 - 200

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250. atmoaggie
9:45 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
Quoting StAugustineFL:
FWIW, ignored my first handle today.
? About the most civil day, here, ever.
I must have missed something...something that I would be better off missing anyway.
;-)
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
249. CothranRoss
9:40 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
Quoting Neapolitan:
The NOAA is out with the latest stats from last week's monstrous tornado outbreak:

DATE | REPORTED | NOAA ESTIMATE| SURVEYED & CONFIRMED

25-26 | 55 | 40 | 25

26-27 | 111 | 75 | 40

27-28 | 268 | 190 | 132

TOTAL | 434 | 305 | 197


So last week's outbreak has already exceeded the 1974 Super Outbreak by more than 33%. If the NOAA's estimated 305 stands, it will, obviously, have more than doubled the previous record holder.

The current confirmed breakdown by strength (though NOAA says these are minimum ["at least"] strengths, and may be reclassified as more data comes in):

EF0: 55
EF1: 60
EF2: 47
EF3: 21
EF4: 12
EF5: 2

On the sorta good news front, the death toll continues to drop as duplicates are removed and errors are corrected for: as of now, its stands at 318 (with 309 of those occuring between 8AM Wednesday and 8AM Thursday).


aren't there still a bunch of people missing?
Member Since: April 16, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 112
248. lickitysplit
9:39 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
good article on background to current midwestern flood: http://www.wildlandspermaculture.com/thewaterdidit /
Member Since: May 17, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 631
246. StAugustineFL
9:29 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
FWIW, ignored my first handle today.
Member Since: March 8, 2011 Posts: 1 Comments: 802
244. CybrTeddy
8:54 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
Neat feature..
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 23867
243. StAugustineFL
8:44 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
Quoting RastaSteve:
Well it looks as if Orlando is going to get rocked this afternoon. Already have been some very strong storms that rolled by to my east and the storms are rebuilding right over western Seminole County. We need the rain and will take whatever i can get.


The cells are isolated at best. Consider yourself lucky if you were fortunate enough to have one pass through.

Member Since: March 8, 2011 Posts: 1 Comments: 802
242. pottery
8:12 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
Quoting Neapolitan:

Hmmm, how did that get there? I see "309". ;-\

what's a digit, between friends?
:)
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24209
241. xcool
8:11 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
;)
Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15648
240. jeffs713
8:06 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
Quoting xcool:



quite interesting looking at image...

Honestly, I'd be more concerned about the low system coming into the plains, with a 60-70kt LLJ.
Member Since: August 3, 2008 Posts: 16 Comments: 5880
239. xcool
7:54 PM GMT on May 04, 2011



quite interesting looking at image...
Member Since: September 26, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 15648
236. aquak9
7:47 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
mmmm, yeah.

Orange Julius for Guv'nuh. Just give me a fifth and I'll vote for anything.
Member Since: August 13, 2005 Posts: 165 Comments: 25833
234. Neapolitan
7:35 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
Quoting pottery:

Eh??

Hmmm, how did that get there? I see "309". ;-\
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13508
233. Patrap
7:25 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
ESL by LSU Hurricane Picture Gallery


Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127804
232. Patrap
7:23 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
I do believe a Gum ball Machine could beat the Skeletor Guy easily next election.

Im more a Orange Julius kinda guy though.





Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127804
231. pottery
7:14 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
Quoting Neapolitan:
The NOAA is out with the latest stats from last week's monstrous tornado outbreak:

DATE | REPORTED | NOAA ESTIMATE| SURVEYED & CONFIRMED

25-26 | 55 | 40 | 25

26-27 | 111 | 75 | 40

27-28 | 268 | 190 | 132

TOTAL | 434 | 305 | 197


So last week's outbreak has already exceeded the 1974 Super Outbreak by more than 33%. If the NOAA's estimated 305 stands, it will, obviously, have more than doubled the previous record holder.

The current confirmed breakdown by strength (though NOAA says these are minimum ["at least"] strengths, and may be reclassified as more data comes in):

EF0: 55
EF1: 60
EF2: 47
EF3: 21
EF4: 12
EF5: 2

On the sorta good news front, the death toll continues to drop as duplicates are removed and errors are corrected for: as of now, its stands at 318 (with 319 of those occuring between 8AM Wednesday and 8AM Thursday).

Eh??
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24209
230. pottery
7:10 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
Quoting DDR:
How is your calabash tree?i see some with new leaves all over the place.bbl

Wha' ?
Mine has not even lost it's leaves. But that's happening slowly now...
The thing is, Rainy Season cannot begin until it has new leaves, and since it still has it's old ones, I am confused!

It must be the effects of Man-Made Climate Change.

(opens a beer, and runs from the room...)
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24209
229. presslord
7:07 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
Quoting Patrap:


Im gonna have to take the 5th


Keep your hands off of my fifth, buddy!!!!!
Member Since: August 13, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10480
228. gordydunnot
7:01 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
Did anyone see they have developed a wave powered buoy that was released in April, to be followed by more in the future. They will be less expensive and also mobile, being able to be directed in to the action so to speak.Link
Member Since: August 18, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 3113
227. atmoaggie
6:56 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
Quoting gordydunnot:
Patrap if you take the 5th about 70 more times you got a good chance to be governor of Florida.
I have a sneaking suspicion that Patrap's response would be something on the order of "Thanks, but no thanks" if that job fell in his lap.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
226. DDR
6:56 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
How is your calabash tree?i see some with new leaves all over the place.bbl
Member Since: April 27, 2007 Posts: 14 Comments: 1699
225. DDR
6:54 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
Quoting pottery:
Still humid and hot here (92 today)
Some clouds around, but no rain on me, though the airport (enter PIARCO in the search box above) recorded some showers.
Rainy Season starts in June...

On another note, the SAL has been very slight this year so far in terms of dust.
Less dust, more chance of T-Waves holding together when that time comes (other things being equal, of course)

Hi pottery,2 or 3 heavy showers fell here,everything is just mud and weeds all over.
Member Since: April 27, 2007 Posts: 14 Comments: 1699
224. gordydunnot
6:53 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
Patrap if you take the 5th about 70 more times you got a good chance to be governor of Florida.
Member Since: August 18, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 3113
223. gordydunnot
6:51 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
Thanks Rasta, just looking at the w. vapor in motion looks like Pottery my get nailed from the south. Usually only has to worry about what's coming from his east. And if you care to comment that's an extremely large ULL in the central Atlantic we have been lucky the last few seasons with this feature. Wonder if it will persist.
Member Since: August 18, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 3113
222. Patrap
6:50 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
Quoting CaicosRetiredSailor:
May the 5th be with you...


Im gonna have to take the 5th
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127804
221. Neapolitan
6:46 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
The NOAA is out with the latest stats from last week's monstrous tornado outbreak:

DATE | REPORTED | NOAA ESTIMATE| SURVEYED & CONFIRMED

25-26 | 55 | 40 | 25

26-27 | 111 | 75 | 40

27-28 | 268 | 190 | 132

TOTAL | 434 | 305 | 197


So last week's outbreak has already exceeded the 1974 Super Outbreak by more than 33%. If the NOAA's estimated 305 stands, it will, obviously, have more than doubled the previous record holder.

The current confirmed breakdown by strength (though NOAA says these are minimum ["at least"] strengths, and may be reclassified as more data comes in):

EF0: 55
EF1: 60
EF2: 47
EF3: 21
EF4: 12
EF5: 2

On the sorta good news front, the death toll continues to drop as duplicates are removed and errors are corrected for: as of now, its stands at 318 (with 309 of those occuring between 8AM Wednesday and 8AM Thursday).
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13508
220. beell
6:43 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
Quoting ShenValleyFlyFish:
One benefit of rains (sort of). Doubt if folks have been able to get into the fields, even with high flotation tracked equipment.


Wouldn't Grandpa give a whistle at that one, Shen!.

Nothing floats like a Deere...er...uh...well, something like that.
Member Since: September 11, 2007 Posts: 142 Comments: 16478
218. gordydunnot
6:40 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
Notice a lot of moisture and cloud activity building from the Bay of Campeche ne towards central gulf of Mexico. Also quite a shift of winds from the North to the east. May spin up a little action although no real surface pressure drops yet.
Member Since: August 18, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 3113
217. pottery
6:27 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
Still humid and hot here (92 today)
Some clouds around, but no rain on me, though the airport (enter PIARCO in the search box above) recorded some showers.
Rainy Season starts in June...

On another note, the SAL has been very slight this year so far in terms of dust.
Less dust, more chance of T-Waves holding together when that time comes (other things being equal, of course)
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24209
216. CaicosRetiredSailor
6:25 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
May the 5th be with you...
Member Since: July 12, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 6004
215. pottery
6:20 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
Quoting DestinJeff:
Ahem ... hurricane season cometh, like the grand-finale of the 2011 weather fireworks show.

Er, you think we gonna get some storms?
:):))
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24209
214. Patrap
6:04 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
And also wit U
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127804
213. SQUAWK
6:03 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
Quoting DestinJeff:
Ahem ... hurricane season cometh, like the grand-finale of the 2011 weather fireworks show.

This is not the end, not even the beginning of the end, but perhaps the end of the beginning. "WC"
Member Since: December 9, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2498
212. presslord
6:00 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
May the 4th.............be with you!!!!
Member Since: August 13, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 10480
210. Jax82
5:47 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
Quoting RastaSteve:
Boy huge towering clouds building here in Orlando. I would say thunderstorms are about to form at anytime now. Bring it on as we need the rain!


I wouldnt hold your breathe, doesnt look like much happening. The front is gonna pass you soon.

Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 1261
208. KeysieLife
5:31 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
Quoting atmoaggie:
"One who knows the Mississippi will promptly aver -not aloud but to himself -that 10,000 river commissions… cannot tame that lawless stream, cannot curb it or confine it, cannot say to it go here, or go there, and make it obey; cannot save a shore which it has sentence; cannot bar its path with an obstruction which it will not tear down, dance over, and laugh at."
-Mark Twain

Whooooow! (Ric Flair style)
Member Since: September 10, 2010 Posts: 3 Comments: 409
207. atmoaggie
5:28 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
"One who knows the Mississippi will promptly aver -not aloud but to himself -that 10,000 river commissions… cannot tame that lawless stream, cannot curb it or confine it, cannot say to it go here, or go there, and make it obey; cannot save a shore which it has sentence; cannot bar its path with an obstruction which it will not tear down, dance over, and laugh at."
-Mark Twain
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
206. ShenValleyFlyFish
5:20 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
Quoting beell:


Not to mention, the spring rise probably coincides with a spring-time spike in the use of pesticides and fertilzer.


One benefit of rains (sort of). Doubt if folks have been able to get into the fields, even with high flotation tracked equipment.
Member Since: September 9, 2007 Posts: 36 Comments: 4687
205. atmoaggie
5:18 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
Quoting aspectre:
149 atmoaggie
Quoting aspectre:
80 LS1redline "Be sure to scroll to the lower right of the link I posted to see the satellite images of before and after the Birds Point levee being blown too."
[before and after pictures]
"Clearly, those are not true color images. The Mississippi, even up there and especially after all of the rainfall, is nothing close to blue water. Basically looks like very runny mud."

The explanation on the use of pseudo-coloring on "a combination of visible and infrared light to increase contrast between water and land..." is why I inserted that link into LS1redline's non-linked comment.
I know. Just wanted to make that point clear to everyone.
The MS river is never blue...unless there is a huge windex spill somewhere...
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
204. atmoaggie
5:17 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
A large image of areas flooded by the MS river and tributaries in 1927: http://rpmedia.ask.com/ts?u=/wikipedia/commons/th umb/8/8c/1927_LA_Flood_Map.jpg/350px-1927_LA_Flood _Map.jpg
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12461
203. beell
5:07 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
Quoting atmoaggie:
Yep. Would be nice if the river water wasn't carrying so much fertilizer, now, though. Algal blooms, nutrient depletion, and then anoxia coming to the Lake, hopefully not too severe. (But going to happen...the scale of which is unknown, I think.)

A presentation on the subject by hydrodynamic modelers at UNO (and some good people I've had the privilege to work with): http://www.lacpra.org/assets/docs/Georgiou_Modeli ng_BC_BTR_June_2008.ppt


Not to mention, the spring rise probably coincides with a spring-time spike in the use of pesticides and fertilzer.


Member Since: September 11, 2007 Posts: 142 Comments: 16478
202. aspectre
4:56 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
149 atmoaggie
Quoting aspectre:
80 LS1redline "Be sure to scroll to the lower right of the link I posted to see the satellite images of before and after the Birds Point levee being blown too."
[before and after pictures]
"Clearly, those are not true color images. The Mississippi, even up there and especially after all of the rainfall, is nothing close to blue water. Basically looks like very runny mud."

The explanation on the use of pseudo-coloring to represent "a combination of visible and infrared light to increase contrast between water and land..." is why I inserted that link into LS1redline's originally non-linked comment.
Member Since: August 21, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 4860
201. KeysieLife
4:52 PM GMT on May 04, 2011
Popped my head outside (my only reliable met source) and noticed the clouds are building and the breeze has picked up. Cold front is coming through in WCFL.

Still no rain..."you're killing me Smalls!"
Member Since: September 10, 2010 Posts: 3 Comments: 409
Quoting atmoaggie:
Clearly, those are not true color images. The Mississippi, even up there and especially after all of the rainfall, is nothing close to blue water. Basically looks like very runny mud.

(Re: Pics such as this one.)
Agreed - Sorry didn't intend to convey that. I grew up in Hannibal, MO and the water there is dirty enough that I never once considered jumping in it!
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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