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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Quoting ShenValleyFlyFish:

After cleaning up after several floods and having extended family in farming, I suspect what they are concerned about is that it is highly likely that a lot of good topsoil will be scoured off and deposited in the Gulf of Mexico. The good soil was deposited a long time ago when the land was covered with trees and the over flow, settling effect was spread over the whole flood plane. What we will have here is going to be similar to the river cutting a new channel I am afraid.

Good points.
I am not familiar with the Geography of the place, and assumed it was relatively flat land where scouring would not be an issue.
Although a wave of water (4 stories high ????) would move more than just topsoil, for sure.

Bad stuff anyway we take it...
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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
."

29April

3May
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.)
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Quoting RitaEvac:


How far are you from Crown Point airport?

Crown Point airport is on Tobago.
(Trinidad&Tobago is a twin-island Nation)
I am in Trinidad, 8 miles south west of Piarco airport.
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Quoting KeysieLife:

Adding to that thought: It never would have been fertile farmland in the first place if the river hadn't flooded it before!

After cleaning up after several floods and having extended family in farming, I suspect what they are concerned about is that it is highly likely that a lot of good topsoil will be scoured off and deposited in the Gulf of Mexico. The good soil was deposited a long time ago when the land was covered with trees and the over flow, settling effect was spread over the whole flood plane. What we will have here is going to be similar to the river cutting a new channel I am afraid.
Member Since: September 9, 2007 Posts: 36 Comments: 4687
146. 7544
Quoting tropicaltank:
Maybe we should move the beginning of the season up to May 15th.


hmm looking at this i would have to agree

Link
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Quoting jeffs713:
As pottery (and several others) have mentioned, I am finding it VERY hard to understand why authorities in MO are saying the "land is ruined" by the floodway, when the river's silt is responsible for it being so fertile. Yes, you may have to rebuild roads and farmhouses, but that land will be beyond rich for decades to come.


Speaking in the hear and now, he's right, it is ruined. I don't know if it's the same as Lake Okeechobee dumps but, when the flood gates are opened down here it takes quite a toll on the environment. Back in 06, the Ernesto dump, devastated the eco system for several years. With the silt comes a ton of pollution that overwhelms earths natural ability to cleanse.

Long term, it will eventually benefit the area but that will take time.
Member Since: January 30, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 3259
Quoting Chicklit:
Can someone explain why we're getting a cold front but no rain?




in other words its called a dry cold front
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 115453
Quoting jeffs713:
As pottery (and several others) have mentioned, I am finding it VERY hard to understand why authorities in MO are saying the "land is ruined" by the floodway, when the river's silt is responsible for it being so fertile. Yes, you may have to rebuild roads and farmhouses, but that land will be beyond rich for decades to come.

Adding to that thought: It never would have been fertile farmland in the first place if the river hadn't flooded it before!
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As pottery (and several others) have mentioned, I am finding it VERY hard to understand why authorities in MO are saying the "land is ruined" by the floodway, when the river's silt is responsible for it being so fertile. Yes, you may have to rebuild roads and farmhouses, but that land will be beyond rich for decades to come.
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Quoting IKE:

I didn't look down upon you. Look at my comment #101. I said it's hard to complain. I didn't say you or I didn't have a right to.


My apologies, I thought you were criticizing me.
Member Since: January 30, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 3259
Quoting pottery:
Good Morning all.
Hot, humid, overcast here at 11n 61w.
Plenty WV on the maps, mostly over Northern South America but trending NE.
A very potent-looking mass of stuff coming off Africa today as well.

Good to see that there are no weather calamities planned for the CONUS today. Sad about the losses due to the breaching of the levees though.
No doubt the soil in that area will be somewhat rejuvenated due to that.
The Chemical Fertilizer industry will have to do a little extra marketing there, when the time comes...


How far are you from Crown Point airport?
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Quoting caribbeantracker01:
IF ANYONE NOTICE A NEW TREND MAY BE DEVELOPING THAT HURRICANE SEASON IN THE ATMOSPHERE SEEM TO BE COMMENCING IN the month of MAY INSTEAD OF JUNE ANY THOUGHTS? THE REASON OF This observation derives from the wind shear maps take a look at it and its forecast!
Maybe we should move the beginning of the season up to May 15th.
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138. IKE

Quoting CyclonicVoyage:



Although I am deeply saddened by the events of last week and ongoing flooding, I would like to be able to make a comment about an unrelated topic without being looked down upon. As hard as it may be, life does go on and much faster for those that have not had any direct involvement with either situation. It's a tough fact of life. I was sad, I offered what help I could in the form of money and I moved on.
I didn't look down upon you. Look at my comment #101. I said it's hard to complain. I didn't say you or I didn't have a right to.
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Quoting IKE:
It's hard to complain much, with what has gone on in the SE USA the last week and with the flooding.



Although I am deeply saddened by the events of last week and ongoing flooding, I would like to be able to make a comment about an unrelated topic without being looked down upon. As hard as it may be, life does go on and much faster for those that have not had any direct involvement with either situation. It's a tough fact of life. I was sad, I offered what help I could in the form of money and I moved on.
Member Since: January 30, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 3259
Complete Update





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thanks Rasta, over and out.
Member Since: July 11, 2006 Posts: 14 Comments: 11423
Good Morning all.
Hot, humid, overcast here at 11n 61w.
Plenty WV on the maps, mostly over Northern South America but trending NE.
A very potent-looking mass of stuff coming off Africa today as well.

Good to see that there are no weather calamities planned for the CONUS today. Sad about the losses due to the breaching of the levees though.
No doubt the soil in that area will be somewhat rejuvenated due to that.
The Chemical Fertilizer industry will have to do a little extra marketing there, when the time comes...
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Can someone explain why we're getting a cold front but no rain?
Member Since: July 11, 2006 Posts: 14 Comments: 11423
131. IKE
Quoting CyclonicVoyage:



I've been quite disgusted with our forecasts in SEFL this year, I mean absolutely horrible. Back when we were supposed to have that big severe weather outbreak, our locals at lunchtime that day said the line would be here by 5pm with damaging winds, tornado's and copious amounts of rain ect.... Well, the .00001 inches of rain we got showed up with the front @ 3am and not a single clap of thunder.

A forecast doesn't get much worse than that.
It's hard to complain much, with what has gone on in the SE USA the last week and with the flooding.
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130. IKE

Quoting aquak9:
Ike- we're at a DP of 56 right now, but we're still kinda overcast n breezy. Imagine most of us will be seeing watches or red flag warnings by the end of the week.

Keep that rain gauge clean- it'll come, either with a number or a name.
LOL

I've had more bird droppings in it, in the last month, then rain.
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Quoting RastaSteve:
NWS of Tampa and melbourne are going to bomb Friday's forecast if they don't add atleast a 40 to 50 percent chance of rain and thunderstorms.



I've been quite disgusted with our forecasts in SEFL this year, I mean absolutely horrible. Back when we were supposed to have that big severe weather outbreak, our locals at lunchtime that day said the line would be here by 5pm with damaging winds, tornado's and copious amounts of rain ect.... Well, the .00001 inches of rain we got showed up with the front @ 3am and not a single clap of thunder.

A forecast doesn't get much worse than that.
Member Since: January 30, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 3259
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:


the north will be ice free during summer beginning 2015


faster and faster we are going


You are a witness Keeper.
As are we all as we watch it unfold.
Notice next the hateful remarks when we are simply stating the facts.

Prediction: Once the insurance companies come on board with global warming, policy will change.
In a Clash of the Titans between Big Energy and Insurance, guess who will win.
Member Since: July 11, 2006 Posts: 14 Comments: 11423
this summer season will see ice coverage in the north reduced to its lowest rate of coverage then ever before
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 178 Comments: 55972
Quoting Chicklit:
Good morning, the trees are leafing up with no rain to speak of but there must be some underground.

It has occurred to me that global warming effects are accelerating in a sort of sling shot effect where one imbalance creates another and yet another. Perhaps pinball is a better analogy, dunno.
Anyway, scientific experts have documented the ice caps are melting faster than expected and at this rate, we'll see 2-3 ft. rise in sea levels by 2100 (or more). Excerpt from this a.m.'s article below:

"U.N. talks on a global pact to combat climate change are making sluggish progress. The United Nations says national promises to limit greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels, are insufficient to avoid dangerous changes.

Thick and thin sea ice are seen in this image taken in March 2011 as part of NASA's climate studies over the Arctic. The new report, drawing on work by hundreds of experts, said there were signs that warming was accelerating.

"The increase in annual average temperature since 1980 has been twice as high over the Arctic as it has been over the rest of the world,"
the report said. Temperatures were higher than at any time in the past 2,000 years, it added.

As a result, the Arctic Ocean could be nearly ice free in summers within 30 to 40 years, earlier than projected by the U.N. climate panel, it stated.

Link


the north will be ice free during summer beginning 2015


faster and faster we are going
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 178 Comments: 55972
Quoting KeysieLife:
Uh-Oh! New article about rising sea levels.

By KARL RITTER, Associated Press Karl Ritter, Associated Press – 8 mins ago

STOCKHOLM – Arctic ice is melting faster than expected and could raise the average global sea level by as much as five feet this century, an authoritative new report suggests.

"That team, led by Eric Rignot of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, projected that the accelerating melt of the vast Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets would itself raise sea levels by about 6 inches (15 centimeters) by 2050. Adding in other factors — expansion of the oceans from warming and runoff from other glaciers worldwide — would raise sea levels a total of some 13 inches (32 centimeters) by 2050, they said."

Full article: Link
Good morning all. It's a good thing I know how to snorkel:)
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Good morning, the trees are leafing up with no rain to speak of but there must be some underground.

It has occurred to me that global warming effects are accelerating in a sort of sling shot effect where one imbalance creates another and yet another. Perhaps pinball is a better analogy, dunno.
Anyway, scientific experts have documented the ice caps are melting faster than expected and at this rate, we'll see 2-3 ft. rise in sea levels by 2100 (or more). Excerpt from this a.m.'s article below:

"U.N. talks on a global pact to combat climate change are making sluggish progress. The United Nations says national promises to limit greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels, are insufficient to avoid dangerous changes.

Thick and thin sea ice are seen in this image taken in March 2011 as part of NASA's climate studies over the Arctic. The new report, drawing on work by hundreds of experts, said there were signs that warming was accelerating.

"The increase in annual average temperature since 1980 has been twice as high over the Arctic as it has been over the rest of the world,"
the report said. Temperatures were higher than at any time in the past 2,000 years, it added.

As a result, the Arctic Ocean could be nearly ice free in summers within 30 to 40 years, earlier than projected by the U.N. climate panel, it stated.

Link
Member Since: July 11, 2006 Posts: 14 Comments: 11423
Quoting RastaSteve:
I heard an interesting note on TWC the other night that most of the deadly Tornado Outbreaks over the last 10 to 15 years has been concentrating over Miss and AL.I wonder if tornado alley has shifted into the SE US?


Rasta -

There are actually four distinct 'tornado alleys' identified that see long-duration supercell tornadoes with frequency.



The article can be found here:

http://news.discovery.com/earth/redefining-tornad o-alleys.html
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Ike- we're at a DP of 56 right now, but we're still kinda overcast n breezy. Imagine most of us will be seeing watches or red flag warnings by the end of the week.

Keep that rain gauge clean- it'll come, either with a number or a name.
Member Since: August 13, 2005 Posts: 177 Comments: 26628
117. IKE

Quoting RastaSteve:


Ike send some of that cooler air south.
Wish I could. High today in the 70's here w/a breeze.



Quoting Neapolitan:

If it's any consolation, almost the entire central and eastern parts of the nation will be much warmer beginning Friday and going on into next week. Hot, even, with 90s forecast for large areas.
I see that......


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Quoting IKE:
I doubt it gets to 38 here tonight. Crestview forecasting a low near 40.

Dew point right now is at 48 here.

If it's any consolation, almost the entire central and eastern parts of the nation will be much warmer beginning Friday and going on into next week. Hot, even, with 90s forecast for large areas.
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114. IKE
I doubt it gets to 38 here tonight. Crestview forecasting a low near 40.

Dew point right now is at 48 here.
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#108 We can see and smell the smoke from the Cypress fire up here in Fort Myers. We need rain!!
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Quoting IKE:
I picked up a whopping .01 inches of rain last night when the cold front passed through. No mention of rain the next 7(maybe more) days.

I've had 1.50 inches of rain at my location...since April 1st.

54.5 outside my window right now.

Tonight......

Colder. Mostly clear. Lows 38 to 43. North winds 5 to 10 mph.

For April, Naples received 0.17" inches of rain. We had above normal temperatures every day of the month, and in fact set or tied high temperature records on 13 different days in April.

It's dry.

It's hot.

There have been a number of brush fires to the east over the past few weeks, and this morning the air in town is filled with smoke, leaving 1/2 mile visibility.

Yippee...
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Quoting sflawavedude:


I don't know why the state fought the demolition of that levee. The people who built in that plain should have known it was an "emergency flood plain" and it's their own fault for being in a threatening area for flooding.


Personally I think the state fought it, just so that the folks who lost homes/property could get financial reimbursement from the gov't.

So much naivety in the above statement- these weren't homes and properties that just went on the market last year- these were properties that had been owned and farmed for DECADES, close to a CENTURY. No American farmer/landowner/homeowner is just gonna give up their place on earth, without some kinda fight.

Ike- doubt you'll see those thirties, but I bet you're gonna get real dry this next week.
Member Since: August 13, 2005 Posts: 177 Comments: 26628
good morning friends and (lunatic)fringe

Ike- obviously I need to go look at the forecast- things ain't what I expected when I stepped onto the porch
Member Since: August 13, 2005 Posts: 177 Comments: 26628
IF ANYONE NOTICE A NEW TREND MAY BE DEVELOPING THAT HURRICANE SEASON IN THE ATMOSPHERE SEEM TO BE COMMENCING IN the month of MAY INSTEAD OF JUNE ANY THOUGHTS? THE REASON OF This observation derives from the wind shear maps take a look at it and its forecast!
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101. IKE
I picked up a whopping .01 inches of rain last night when the cold front passed through. No mention of rain the next 7(maybe more) days.

I've had 1.50 inches of rain at my location...since April 1st.

54.5 outside my window right now.

Tonight......

Colder. Mostly clear. Lows 38 to 43. North winds 5 to 10 mph.
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100. IKE
Here's some good news....

City of Tuscaloosa lowers number of missing persons to 80
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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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