Mississippi River flood of 2011 sets all-time flow record, but has crested

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:43 PM GMT on May 20, 2011

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The great Mississippi River flood of 2011 crested yesterday and today, and the volume of water being pushed toward the Gulf of Mexico is the largest ever recorded on the Mississippi, said Bob Anderson, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers for the Mississippi Valley Division. "It's never been this high; it's never had this much water," he said. "There's just a tremendous amount of strain on these levees." The Mississippi crested yesterday at Vicksburg, Mississippi, reaching 57.06'. This exceeded the previous all-time record of 56.2', set during the great flood of 1927. The river crested at Natchez, Mississippi early this morning, and is now falling. The flood height at Natchez was also the greatest on record--61.91', nearly three feet higher than the previous record height of 58', set in 1937. The opening of the Morganza Spillway on Saturday helped to reduce the flood heights from Vicksburg to New Orleans by 1 - 3 feet, greatly reducing the pressure on the levees and on the critical Old River Control Structure (which, as I discussed last Friday, is America's Achilles' heel, and must be protected.) According the National Weather Service, the Mississippi River is no longer rising anywhere along its length, and the great flood of 2011 has likely seen its peak. Rainfall over the next five days will not be enough to raise the Mississippi River water levels above the crests recorded yesterday and today. While it is great news that the flood has peaked, and the Old River Control Structure and all of the mainline levees on the Mississippi River have held, the fight is not over yet. Water levels will stay high for many weeks, and these structures will take a sustained pounding that could still cause failures. If another incredible heavy rain event like we experienced in mid-April occurs in June, the levee system and Old River Control Structure will threatened. Let's hope we don't have an early season Gulf of Mexico tropical storm that makes landfall over Louisiana. The latest 2-week forecast from the GFS model is not hinting at anything like this, fortunately. It's a good thing (for the sake of the levees) that Louisiana experienced severe drought over the winter and spring--had the water levels been high throughout winter and spring, like occurred in the run-up to the great 1927 flood, the levees would have been soggy and much more vulnerable to failure once the big flood crest hit.


Figure 1. The flow of the Mississippi River past the Old River Control Structure near Simmesport, Louisiana reached its all-time highest volume on record Thursday, when the flow rate hit 2.3 million cubic feet per second (cfs). The flow of Niagara Falls at normal water levels is 100,000 cfs, so the Mississippi's flow was 23 times that of Niagara Falls. Image credit: Army Corps of Engineers.

Recommended reading
My post on the Old River Control Structure, America's Achilles' heel: the Mississippi River Old River Control Structure, is well worth reading, if you haven't done so. I plan on making a follow-up post next week discussing the economic cost of the failure of this critical flood-control structure.

Our weather historian, Christopher C. Burt, has made a very interesting post on the greatest floods to affect each continent.


Figure 2. Track forecast for Tropical Storm Four.

First typhoon of 2011 coming?
In the Northwest Pacific, Tropical Storm Four has formed, and appears poised to become the first typhoon of 2011 by early next week. The storm is expected to head west-northwest or northwest towards the Philippines. While the GFS model predicts Tropical Storm Four will miss the Philippines and recurve northwards towards Japan late next week, it is too early to be confident of this forecast.

Have a great weekend everyone, and I'll be back Monday with a new post.

Jeff Masters

In Bound (minou)
Chances of over-topping Baton Rouge or Port Allen levees are slim to none. Problems with this volume continuing for 2 weeks or longer is the question of whether the levees will stand the test of pressure. Thank goodness we've been in a drought or else the levees would be mushy inside and out! The Hwy. 190 Bridge in the distance was closed the day before this photo due to a run-away barge that struck the base.
In Bound
High Water at Baton Rouge (cmrbg06)
High Water at Baton Rouge
High Water at Baton Rouge

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1107. aquak9
grampa I think we're all in a state of shock

we were here for too many tornadoes this year
we've been upset for a few months
and just when we think
we can breathe again

then it happens AGAIN
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1105. aquak9
.
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Traffic cam on the interstate was completely blown out according to twitter, purportedly caught the tornado...im gonna look for it.
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20th & Roundabout: Fire has broken out within 40 yards of an open natural gas leak. #Joplin #tornado
Member Since: August 2, 2010 Posts: 21 Comments: 9824
1102. emcf30
Per the Fire Chief, the Temporary Morgue has been set up in the Mason Waters area. I have heard in the past 2 to 3 min 3 additional fatalities. They are trying to get to the area of the high school Reports of multiple fatalities, injuries and entrapment. Just in reports of a church on Michigan Street with multiple fatalities. Church has collapsed. 2 survivors have walked out to find help. Equipment can not get into area. Trying to make it in on foot.So So sad
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Don't know if this is real, but i just got in Twitter and found this....

BreakingNews Breaking News
24 deaths in wake of tornado in Joplin, MO, - News-Leader http://bit.ly/jaJ5iR
24 seconds ago

and

lil_guido2000 Tony Dello
Likely more to come unfortunately. RT @BreakingNews 24 deaths in wake of tornado in Joplin, MO, - News-Leader http://bit.ly/jaJ5iR
16 seconds ago


Member Since: August 2, 2010 Posts: 21 Comments: 9824
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For those with Facebook, I found this:
Joplin, MO Tornado Recovery
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1097. aquak9
neapolitan I am sending you wu mail

please help
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1095. bappit
Quoting ShenValleyFlyFish:
Just said cell phones overloaded and towers down. Inability to contact someone doesn't necessarily indicate anything.

Also, people probably should avoid calling the area if possible to help by minimizing the load.
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Quoting wxgeek723:
The scary thing is that I don't see very many people on the live feed in Joplin, just damage. Extremely sad.
Again doesn't mean a lot. If he's doing his job he's getting footage but staying the heck out of the way. Probably lots of action other places judging from audio feed. Not like last event where major TV station in area able to go live with lots of folks.
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Quoting AllyBama:
I need help...does anyone have a contact in Joplin? Just found out that a WU member has family there and lost contact with them when the storm hit.

Aqua are you still on?


Try Twitter or Facebook... Twitter should have live tweets going on... Remember that tweets don't depend on electricity, most are done by mobile phones...
Member Since: August 2, 2010 Posts: 21 Comments: 9824
Quoting ShenValleyFlyFish:
Just said cell phones overloaded and towers down. Inability to contact someone doesn't necessarily indicate anything.


I would assume people would be overloading local towers trying to contact friends, neighbors, relatives etc. etc. Doesn't mean it is another Tuscaloosa.
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Quoting AllyBama:
I wonder what happened to all of the people in all of those cars? You didn't see them crawling out as Mike Bettes was walking around..

It's a fairly large parking lot: Street View

Of course, Bettes was confined to just the small area near St. Johns. The path continues northeastward at least three more miles.
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The scary thing is that I don't see very many people on the live feed in Joplin, just damage. Extremely sad.
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Quoting AllyBama:
I need help...does anyone have a contact in Joplin? Just found out that a WU member has family there and lost contact with them when the storm hit.

Aqua are you still on?
Just said cell phones overloaded and towers down. Inability to contact someone doesn't necessarily indicate anything.
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Quoting AllyBama:
hurricanben...I am sorry too for being so rude..I am very upset myself. My state just went through a diaster like this and while I have seen videos, pics, etc. this livestreaming is disturbing.


its ok, I understand.
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This cell is crazy

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The unfortunate part about tornadoes is that, no matter how well informed the public is (due to timely warnings), there is no real way, short of a basement, to escape an EF4 or EF5 twister.
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I need help...does anyone have a contact in Joplin? Just found out that a WU member has family there and lost contact with them when the storm hit.

Aqua are you still on?
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Just fyi, if you qualify for USAA insurance, I recomend them. I have worked 11 disasters and they have always be the top dog.
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Quoting AllyBama:
I wonder what happened to all of the people in all of those cars? You didn't see them crawling out as Mike Bettes was walking around..
It's parking lot to hsptl. Hope no one in them. Prbly most empty.
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Severe Weather Alerts

Tornado Warning for Adair, Cherokee, and Delaware County in OK until 8:45pm CDT. #okwx less than a minute ago
Tornado Warning for Benton and Washington County in AR until 8:45pm CDT. #arwx less than a minute ago
Severe Thunderstorm Warning for Erath County in TX until 9:15pm CDT. #txwx about a minute ago
Severe Thunderstorm Warning for St. Charles and St. Louis County in MO until 9:00pm CDT. #mowx about a minute ago
Severe Thunderstorm Warning for Jersey, Macoupin, and Madison County in IL until 9:00pm CDT. #ilwx about a minute ago
Severe Thunderstorm Warning for Boone, DeKalb, and McHenry County in IL until 9:15pm CDT. #ilwx 2 minutes ago
Severe Thunderstorm Warning for Collin and Denton County in TX until 9:15pm CDT. #txwx 3 minutes ago
Tornado Warning for Comanche and Eastland County in TX until 9:00pm CDT. #txwx 4 minutes ago

Warnings from 28Storms.com

Member Since: August 2, 2010 Posts: 21 Comments: 9824
Quoting Chicklit:

Hey Grandpa. You cannot prepare for a tornado like this. It has leveled the houses. So it's likely there were people seeking shelter in bathrooms under maybe a mattress that could have survived. how would an entire neighborhood know to evacuate? and it's sunday so a lot of them would have been home.


In Harvest, AL, several of the survivors I met had homes that the "extras" as a selling point had a shelter. Many died in the area, mostly mobile home owners. Allot of the mobile home owners I met had no idea where their home went.
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I wonder what happened to all of the people in all of those cars? You didn't see them crawling out as Mike Bettes was walking around..
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1077. pottery
Quoting AllyBama:
hurricanben...I am sorry too for being so rude..I am very upset myself. My state just went through a diaster like this and while I have seen videos, pics, etc. this livestreaming is disturbing.

Keep Strong, Bama.
And everyone else too.
Looking at this from far away. It's very sad.
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 24398
It was graduation day there too. One of the HS's was damaged but the graduation service was being held elsewhere
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A sad, sad sight. Please pray for Joplin tonight, and for everyone in the path of these storms. My heart is just breaking right now.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 2350
Quoting Grandpato4:


This is my initial take as well. When I have seen coverage of tornadoes before the scene seemed much busier. The area was heavily populated. I just hope the people weren't home.

Hey Grandpa. You cannot prepare for a tornado like this. It has leveled the houses. So it's likely there were people seeking shelter in bathrooms under maybe a mattress that could have survived. how would an entire neighborhood know to evacuate? and it's sunday so a lot of them would have been home.
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Quoting hurricaneben:


I know, I'm sorry, I didn't state the sentence correctly. I was in total shock myself with all the damage, I hope the fatality count isn't so high and that they fix the town...I feel really bad seeing stuff like this.
Don't apologize, you asked a honest question and got a rude answer.
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hurricanben...I am sorry too for being so rude..I am very upset myself. My state just went through a diaster like this and while I have seen videos, pics, etc. this livestreaming is disturbing.
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Quoting AllyBama:


you must be kidding? have you not been watching the videos? Emergency people haven't even begun to touch some of the areas damaged by the tornado. At this point, the search and rescue is a diaster in itself. This community is in shock and you are wondering how many people are dead...pathetic..
no need to be so harsh.

Yes this is horrible news, but it is no reason to rip into a fellow poster who is only curious.

Ben, I'd expect that info to be released eventually, but it looks like an ef4/5, so be patient
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I just got back home from working Harvest, Huntsville, and Birmingham. AL. You don't get the 360 deg of damage unless you see it in person.
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Nobody knows how many dead and injured. It's two hours later and on live feed it doesn't look like anyone is there yet to find survivors. Also, you need expertise to do this so you do not further injure people buried in the rubble. What's scarey is how quiet it is. There are not a lot of people running around. I have never seen anything like this and must go to sleep. Bad news for Joplin, MO.
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Quoting AllyBama:


you must be kidding? have you not been watching the videos? Emergency people haven't even begun to touch some of the areas damaged by the tornado. At this point, the search and rescue is a diaster in itself. This community is in shock and you are wondering how many people are dead...pathetic..


I know, I'm sorry, I didn't state the sentence correctly. I was in total shock myself with all the damage, I hope the fatality count isn't so high and that they fix the town...I feel really bad seeing stuff like this.
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1066. emcf30
Quoting hurricaneben:
Horrible nasty damage in Joplin MO. Anyone knows the exact number of fatalities confirmed at this moment?

A lot by listing to live audio feeds. They have not even started getting into a lot of the areas. Heck, Some of the first rescues were that of the firefighters who were trapped in one of the fire stations near the hospital
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Take cover ASAP just N of Forsyth!
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1062. unruly
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Quoting hurricaneben:
Horrible nasty damage in Joplin MO. Anyone knows the exact number of fatalities confirmed at this moment?


Just know of multiple causalities.
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Horrible nasty damage in Joplin MO. Anyone knows the exact number of fatalities confirmed at this moment?
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Member Since: August 2, 2010 Posts: 21 Comments: 9824
Quoting Grandpato4:
A man was sucked out of the hospital. This is just too much.


weighted 300 lbs..
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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.