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

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

Share this Blog
5
+

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

Reader Comments

Comments will take a few seconds to appear.

Post Your Comments

Please sign in to post comments.

or Join

Not only will you be able to leave comments on this blog, but you'll also have the ability to upload and share your photos in our Wunder Photos section.

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

Viewing: 450 - 400

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9Blog Index

450. hydrus
3:19 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
Quoting RitaEvac:


And when there is lull in tropical systems Florida will be doing this...

This is a great post.
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 21734
449. naviguesser
3:08 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
re: 401 (Nea) and 440 (gordy)- It's not a season until the first "Is that an eye...?"
Member Since: September 15, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 71
448. zoomiami
2:59 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
Aqua -- love the Recoons!
Member Since: August 13, 2007 Posts: 10 Comments: 4158
447. gordydunnot
2:57 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
Sorry Ike see you already had that one covered. Day late and a dollar short.
Member Since: August 18, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 3113
446. jeffs713
2:55 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
NEW BLOG

http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/comm ent.html?entrynum=1796
Member Since: August 3, 2008 Posts: 16 Comments: 5890
445. gordydunnot
2:54 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
Oh I forgot one more only,I promise Ike is such a down caster.
Member Since: August 18, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 3113
444. hurristat
2:54 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
Is it just me, or do the SSTs in the Pacific look like neutral/El Nino, and not La Nina?
Member Since: October 15, 2008 Posts: 11 Comments: 2312
443. TampaSpin
2:53 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
Quoting RastaSteve:


Wuz up bud! I was at St. Pete beach last weekend and had a blast. The beaches there are stunning!



St. Pete Beach was ranked a few years ago as one of the top 10 beaches in the world........guess you seen why! The Seafood there is awesome also. Sometimes i take a Motorbike ride there just to eat.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 179 Comments: 20448
442. aquak9
2:53 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
Recoon!

Member Since: August 13, 2005 Posts: 171 Comments: 26253
441. washingtonian115
2:49 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
Quoting CyclonicVoyage:
The TUTT is forecast by the GFS to clear out of the Caribbean by 48hrs. Things should start to change quite drastically over the next 5 days. Below is the 120hr 200mb winds from the GFS. The US is in the upper left of the top image. Notice the sub tropical jet starting to lift North.

Not good.That should increase our chance of having a May or June storm.Also their is one word you all forgot to add to the list.....unprecedented..
Member Since: August 14, 2010 Posts: 10 Comments: 17477
440. gordydunnot
2:49 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
That was good Nea,I think about all I could add to that exhaustive list would be, now don't take this personal.But I really respect your opinion on the tropics so what's your take on this fill in the blank.
Member Since: August 18, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 3113
439. fireflymom
2:47 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
Already clarification required so as not to mislead-lol
Quoting PolishHurrMaster:

Herbert boxes-two boxes,one near Bahamas,second near Cuba(I can be wrong).
Meteorologist Herbert discovered in the 70s that hurricanes coming through these boxes often hit Florida.One box works in early-mid season,second in late-mid to late season.

Member Since: June 5, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 591
438. RastaSteve
2:46 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
Quoting TampaSpin:
My Wishlist.......

IKE and I hit the Florida Lotto....the next two weeks. Hey IKE, Jeff, Aquak, and Steve! You READY???


Wuz up bud! I was at St. Pete beach last weekend and had a blast. The beaches there are stunning!
Member Since: March 21, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 885
437. TampaSpin
2:43 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
My Wishlist.......

IKE and I hit the Florida Lotto....the next two weeks. Hey IKE, Jeff, Aquak, and Steve! You READY???
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 179 Comments: 20448
436. PolishHurrMaster
2:41 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
Quoting fireflymom:

"Herbert Box" will require explanation with a pronunciation guide daily.

Herbert boxes-two boxes,one near Bahamas,second near Cuba(I can be wrong).
Meteorologist Herbert discovered in the 70s that hurricanes coming through these boxes often hit Florida.One box works in early-mid season,second in late-mid to late season.
Member Since: May 19, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 358
435. RastaSteve
2:40 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
Quoting IKE:

  • Oil -3.60

  • Price/barrel $105.64
Woohoo!



Nice! Keep on falling!
Member Since: March 21, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 885
434. RastaSteve
2:38 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
Anybody heard the StormW slogan for 2011 "NAIL IT!" LOL!
Member Since: March 21, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 885
433. IKE
2:37 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
  • Oil -3.60
  • Price/barrel $105.64
Woohoo!
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
431. RastaSteve
2:36 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
Quoting aquak9:
ya'll forgot one thing- the sexy avatars.


LOL! It was like looking at Huslter magazine on here with some of these avatars.
Member Since: March 21, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 885
430. IKE
2:36 PM GMT on May 05, 2011

Quoting DestinJeff:


stop, aqua, you're making me blush.
lol
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
428. IKE
2:35 PM GMT on May 05, 2011

Quoting aquak9:
ya'll forgot one thing- the sexy avatars.
That all fall in love with stormW.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
427. muddertracker
2:34 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
Quoting KeysieLife:

LOL and don't forget his uncanny skills with MS Paint!
Quoting KeysieLife:

LOL and don't forget his uncanny skills with MS Paint!
I forgot all about that..heheh
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 2351
425. aquak9
2:32 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
ya'll forgot two things- the sexy avatars, and Recoon.
Member Since: August 13, 2005 Posts: 171 Comments: 26253
424. RastaSteve
2:26 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
Quoting DestinJeff:
here you go.... just becasue:




LOL! Herbert's shower curtain box of DOOM!
Member Since: March 21, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 885
423. RastaSteve
2:25 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
Quoting DestinJeff:


don't worry I would never had said "almost everyone" if I hadn't already seen you on.

Somebody should call Best Buy and let Reed know the blog needs him now.


I thought he said he pushes carts at Target? I remember him saying he's a lot attendant. I also hear he has a CD.
Member Since: March 21, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 885
422. IKE
2:25 PM GMT on May 05, 2011

Quoting aspectre:
369 IKE "Memo to network news: Bin Laden is dead. Move on. They can drive any story into the ground."

blog1793page19comment948 aspectre 8:11amGMT 2May2011 "And our top story tonight : Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead."
True!
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
420. aspectre
2:20 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
369 IKE "Memo to network news: Bin Laden is dead. Move on. They can drive any story into the ground."

blog1793page19comment948 aspectre 8:11amGMT 2May2011
"And our top story tonight : Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead."
Member Since: August 21, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 4860
418. KeysieLife
2:16 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
Quoting muddertracker:
I dig Reed when he is in the "zone." He's not afraid to go against the consensus...he blogs his mind...he usually backs up his claims with (his interpretation of) weather data..

LOL and don't forget his uncanny skills with MS Paint!
Member Since: September 10, 2010 Posts: 3 Comments: 409
417. muddertracker
2:12 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
I dig Reed when he is in the "zone." He's not afraid to go against the consensus...he blogs his mind...he usually backs up his claims with (his interpretation of) weather data..
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 2351
416. overwash12
2:11 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
401. @ Nea Either you are one fast typer or you have way too much time on your hands!lol
Member Since: June 24, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 1479
415. jeffs713
2:10 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
Quoting DestinJeff:
Nea ... thanks for the recap.

Looks like everyone is starting to show up. Of course, party can't REALLY get started until Reed shows up with his exclusive "Continent of Uncertainty"
I don't see anyone here on the blog named "everyone", so who are you talking about? (and for the record, some of us have been spammin... I mean lurking all winter)
Member Since: August 3, 2008 Posts: 16 Comments: 5890
414. KeysieLife
2:07 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
Quoting DestinJeff:
Nea ... thanks for the recap.

Looks like everyone is starting to show up. Of course, party can't REALLY get started until Reed shows up with his exclusive "Continent of Uncertainty"

Careful, I heard he's "pumping" a trademark on it this season!
Member Since: September 10, 2010 Posts: 3 Comments: 409
413. IKE
2:07 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
Quoting DestinJeff:
Nea ... thanks for the recap.

Looks like everyone is starting to show up. Of course, party can't REALLY get started until Reed shows up with his exclusive "Continent of Uncertainty"
lol....everyone knows that trouble is looming on here...my gosh, I forgot about Reed.

"when is the next ECMWF run?"

"GFS hasn't been worth a crap so far this season"
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
411. ChillinInTheKeys
2:04 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
Freedom 7 launched 9:34 am EST on 5/5/1961. Splashed and recovered safely 50 years ago.
Member Since: August 18, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 695
409. muddertracker
2:01 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
Quoting DestinJeff:


or my drums. where did I put those things?

I'm not changing the avatar until 1st named storm. Maybe.
Quoting DestinJeff:


or my drums. where did I put those things?

I'm not changing the avatar until 1st named storm. Maybe.


I dunno..the eye is unusally large and exposed...
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 2351
407. muddertracker
2:00 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
401. Perfecto! LOL! "Curtians UP!"
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 2351
406. IKE
1:56 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
LOL!!!!!!

401 covers it all. If you've blogged on here for awhile you do get a constant feeding of the same responses.

"It's not being designated. Recon should make one more pass! They don't know what the hell they're doing!"

"i don't trust the NHC. They've really gone downhill the last couple of years"
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
405. muddertracker
1:55 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
Quoting DestinJeff:


hey that's my line.
Quoting DestinJeff:


hey that's my line.

DJ :) Glad you're back! I have a feeling your humor will be much needed this blogging season.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 2351
404. fireflymom
1:55 PM GMT on May 05, 2011

Quoting muddertracker:
"Certainty's a big word." The following things WILL happen during this year's blogging season:

1. StormW will return.
2. Taz will hunt down any and every JFV alias.
3. Destin Jeff will be banned at least 3 times.
4. The ridge will definitely be pumped!

Have a great day!
"Herbert Box" will require explanation with a pronunciation guide daily.
Member Since: June 5, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 591
403. ChillinInTheKeys
1:55 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
Quoting DestinJeff:


hey that's my line.


Sorry DJ. Better grab your guns again, it's your best defense.
Member Since: August 18, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 695
401. Neapolitan
1:51 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
Quoting IKE:

"Pump the ridge"

"pattern change"

"the GOM is prime in 2011"

"have you seen those SST's?"

"where's JFV?"

"who is this stormW, you're talking about?"

"it's almost always quiet in June"

"IKE is a downcaster"

"It's heading straight for Florida!"(even though it's 3,500 miles away)



I have my own, er, slightly longer list. I was gonna hold off, but, well, here you go:

Fish storm! We are all DOOM! Poof! Flagged and re ported! Welcome to my ignore list! CMC! NAM! BAMM! GFDL! HWFI! LBAR! LGEM! SHIPS! TVCN! UKMET! XTRP! XTRP isn't a model! TUTT! Shear! Pinhole eye! Pinehole eye! Annular! Fujiwhara! Rapid intensification! I have a bad feeling about this! Don't like the looks of that! Things may get interesting soon! Things are going to get really scary next week! Season's just getting started! They need to move the start of season up to mid-May! There'll be no storms until mid-July! Ruh-roh! The 06z ECMWF shows a 995mb low right over my house at 384 hours! Season's over! This season's boring! Troll! Bustcaster! Westcaster! Backcaster! Nowcaster! Hypecaster! Doomcaster! The NHC is wrong! The NHC is lying! The NHC has really gone downhill lately! They're not classifying it because they don't want to scare us! They classified it because they want to inflate the numbers! Recon should make one more pass! They don't know what the hell they're doing! Is that a wobble, or a jog? HAARP! Spurious low! Is it an invest yet? If the remnant low of a named storm comes back to life, does it get a new name?! ME GUSTA GRITAR EN ESPANOL EN LETRAS MAYUSCULAS! It's headed to the GOM! It's moving due west! It's going to Florida! It's not going to Florida! Westward! Poleward! The ocean's hot enough to boil shrimp! The Gulf's like a bottle with the cork in too tight! The Caribbean's like a ticking time bomb! The entire Atlantic is like a pressure-cooker with a clogged valve! The NHC needs a new box of crayons! The NHC finally found its box of crayons! Recurve! Wait; shouldn't it just be "curve" and not "recurve"?! Curtains up! Thanks, Dr. Masters! Face palm! Head explodes! The low is pumping the ridge! Coffee on the sideboard! SQUAWK! Shower curtain! JFV! Long-time lurker! I couldn't resist! 90% at the next TWO! Hebert Box! Hope Rule! Hot tub! High Octane! Jet fuel! Rocket fuel! Hot tub full of high-octane jet-like rocket fuel! Lol! LOL! ROFL! ROFLMAO! ROFLMFAO!!!!! SAL! MJO! PDO! NAO! ENSO! EWRC! SST! TCHP! OHC! TWC! TWC sucks! Cantore's in town; look out! Oh, you mean this chart?! Scuse me while I whip this out! AOI! MDR! COC! BOC! GOM! SLOSH! There's too much going on to talk about GW! There's nothing going on; do we have to talk about GW?! Hot tower! RIP! Thanks for the update! The ants are going crazy here! We're going on a Caribbean cruise in a month-and-a-half; how are things looking for us? The models are shifting left! The models are shifting right! The models are dead on! The models were dead wrong! I don't feel like reading back, so I need a summary of the tropics! I'm in the cone! It looks like it's coming right into my livingroom! Lame; I get more wind and rain from a normal summer thunderstorm! I can't wait until the next TWO! I told you so! F5F5F5F5F5! The season's a bust! Don't quote the trolls! Ignored! Where is everybody?! The blog is s-l-o-w. The blog is boring! Z-z-z-z-z-z...
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13597
400. RitaEvac
1:51 PM GMT on May 05, 2011
Quoting IKE:

"Pump the ridge"

"pattern change"

"the GOM is prime in 2011"

"have you seen those SST's?"

"where's JFV?"

"who is this stormW, you're talking about?"

"it's almost always quiet in June"

"IKE is a downcaster"

"It's heading straight for Florida!"(even though it's 3,500 miles away)




And when there is lull in tropical systems Florida will be doing this...

Member Since: July 14, 2008 Posts: 1 Comments: 9645

Viewing: 450 - 400

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9Blog Index

Top of Page

About

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

Local Weather

Overcast
44 °F
Overcast