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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1257. HCW
6:18 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
Member Since: August 10, 2002 Posts: 0 Comments: 1409
1256. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
2:18 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 174 Comments: 54630
1255. dave4321
2:17 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
Wow Devastating in MO! We really need to REQUIRE stronger and better rebuilding and new building codes. There are homes being built in Florida that will withstand 250-300 mph winds. (Reinforced Concrete)

Obviously nothing would be 100% safe, but with the severe weather much of the country is capable of receiving... we really need to start building better.
Member Since: October 22, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 15
1254. atmoaggie
2:16 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
new blog
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
1252. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
2:13 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 174 Comments: 54630
1251. emcf30
2:13 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
WARNING: This is audio of people huddled in back of building when tornado hit. If you dont want to hear it dont click on it. It is terrifying.

Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1937
1250. MTWX
2:13 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
Quoting atmoaggie:
Isn't Floodman from somewhere near Joplin?
Hope he and his are safe...

*Raises coffee cup back at Aquak and others*

I think he still has family there, but he currently lives in San Antonio, TX
Member Since: July 20, 2009 Posts: 23 Comments: 1393
1249. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
2:12 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 174 Comments: 54630
1248. Neapolitan
2:11 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
Quoting Chucktown:


The length of the tornado has been reported as "only" 6 miles, which is actually (excuse the oxymoron) short, for a long track tornado. I think the more impressive part is the width, almost a mile wide at times. We'll learn a lot more later today after the NWS is able to survey the area.

The thing is, Joplin itself is only six miles from west to east--and it looks like the tornado got every inch of it. :-\
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13579
1247. ILwthrfan
2:11 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:


Is this MCS going to track east northeastward up the front, or is it going to spill southeast?
Member Since: February 2, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1526
1246. atmoaggie
2:09 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
Isn't Floodman from somewhere near Joplin?
Hope he and his are safe...

*Raises coffee cup back at Aquak and others*
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 6 Comments: 12463
1245. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
2:07 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 174 Comments: 54630
1244. SouthDadeFish
2:04 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
Quoting Chucktown:


The length of the tornado has been reported as "only" 6 miles, which is actually (excuse the oxymoron) short, for a long track tornado. I think the more impressive part is the width, almost a mile wide at times. We'll learn a lot more later today after the NWS is able to survey the area.
I meant the tornado track relative to the city. That is relatively short length for a violent tornado. It's just disgusting how much of the city was wiped out. This has been a crazy year for severe weather so far.
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 11 Comments: 2448
1243. Chucktown
2:01 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
Quoting SouthDadeFish:
What is really sickening is how long the path of destruction is in that video. It's not just a neighborhood or area of the town, but that tornado cut a line through the entire town. This will most likely be a top 10 deadliest single tornado in US history.


The length of the tornado has been reported as "only" 6 miles, which is actually (excuse the oxymoron) short, for a long track tornado. I think the more impressive part is the width, almost a mile wide at times. We'll learn a lot more later today after the NWS is able to survey the area.
Member Since: August 27, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1775
1242. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
1:59 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
<
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 174 Comments: 54630
1241. srada
1:54 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
Watching last night on TWC with Mike Bettes when he first arrived in Joplin was just heartbreaking..seeing him lose it from the scenes he was witnessing just goes to show dosent matter how many weather events we see or cover that each one is different and can overcome even the most seasonal reporters..to see crushed cars and crushed 18 wheelers is just awful..look at what the tornado did to steel and metal, the people taking shelter in houses never stood a chance..just sad..TWC is doing an incredible job in my opinion!
Member Since: August 17, 2006 Posts: 1 Comments: 774
1240. SouthDadeFish
1:53 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
Hopefully the round of storms headed to Joplin will be the only ones they get today...
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 11 Comments: 2448
1239. SouthDadeFish
1:52 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
Quoting Chucktown:
Aerial video just in from Joplin.

Link
What is really sickening is how long the path of destruction is in that video. It's not just a neighborhood or area of the town, but that tornado cut a line through the entire town. This will most likely be a top 10 deadliest single tornado in US history.
Member Since: August 12, 2007 Posts: 11 Comments: 2448
1237. kwgirl
1:44 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
Good morning everyone. My thoughts and prayers go out to all people affected by those horrible tornadoes. As Chicklit pointed out, the moisture is starting to stream up from the south. Last night as I was leaving East Martello, I looked to the south and saw the high cloud formation streaming in from Cuba. In addition, on Saturday evening, I spotted a waterspout in Florida Bay. I don't know how long it stayed, but it did dissipate without reaching land. Provided a brief shower for Downtown Key West(per a tourist report). Finally our rainy season is starting, and none too soon.
Member Since: March 28, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 1532
1236. Chucktown
1:41 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
Aerial video just in from Joplin.

Link
Member Since: August 27, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1775
1235. Skyepony (Mod)
1:39 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
Joplin is the cross with the circle around it. About to have another round of weather..
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 179 Comments: 38326
1234. emcf30
1:36 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1937
1233. Skyepony (Mod)
1:33 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
Quoting islander101010:
fished the flats ive been fishing since ive been married 25yrs there are no sandys spots anymore every spring we have fished around these shoals. there are no spots to beach the kayak. islands worldwide are reporting water rises. think florida is the exception?


I've been pretty shocked a few times the last 6 months how high the tide came up with no storm or anything to raise it like that~ just south of Patrick Air Force Base. I agree something has changed..
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 179 Comments: 38326
1232. HawkPhotographyDOTus
1:27 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
looks like TVS to the SW of joplin? (how accurate is the little purple triangle on these radar maps?)
Member Since: October 31, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 22
1230. AstroHurricane001
1:26 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
At least 89 confirmed fatalites in Joplin, MO, a city of population 50,150, making this the single deadliest twister since 1953. Damage is easily EF-4, and in some cases the storm chasers who were the first to spot the tornado also acted as emergency first responders when the local emergency services were some of the first to be hit by the storm. They should be praised for their heroic efforts.

Today, it looks like a new series of severe thunderstorms are headed into the Joplin area, and residents who can take cover or evacuate should do so. A southern series of cells is moving directly into the new supercell, which is bringing covergence detectable on radar. Let us pause for a moment of silence on this Monday and on this Victoria Day holiday for your Canadian neighbours norht of the border, who will be seeing some thunderstorms today.

Although the world didn't end on May 21, for many people affected by severe weather and even for many relatives and friends of our fellow WU-bloggers, the world did end for them or they came awfully close. As always, the WU-linked Portlight and other local charities like the American Red Cross will be helping victims of the storms in the coming days and weeks. It's also a sobering reminder that any day could be the end for many people, a harsh reality that the poverty-stricken part of the world has to deal with every day.
Member Since: August 30, 2008 Posts: 8 Comments: 2835
1229. IKE
1:16 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
Webb City is a suburb of Joplin,Missouri.....


Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
1228. yonzabam
1:16 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
Half a mile wide.
Member Since: July 20, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2935
1227. TampaTom
1:12 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
Quoting KRL:
Photos From Joplin

Prayers sent :(


Oh my God... that's unreal.

I wonder how wide the path of the tornado was. That looks like a very wide swath of damage.
Member Since: June 20, 2005 Posts: 22 Comments: 1054
1226. Jax82
1:06 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
Utter devastation


And unfortunately they are about to get hammered with another line of storms in a few minutes.
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1225. KRL
1:01 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
Photos From Joplin

Prayers sent :(
Member Since: July 31, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 231
1224. emcf30
12:58 PM GMT on May 23, 2011


Not liking the way the South side of that storm is starting to look heading towards Joplin
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1937
1223. Chicklit
12:55 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
Good morning. So sorry for the people in Joplin.
(moment of silence)

Looks like some moisture coming up from Caribbean to South Florida.
LoopLink

But then again, maybe not...
403 AM EDT MON MAY 23 2011

...SLIGHT RISK OF RIP CURRENTS ATLANTIC BEACHES...

THIS HAZARDOUS WEATHER OUTLOOK IS FOR SOUTH FLORIDA.

.DAY ONE...TODAY AND TONIGHT

RIP CURRENTS: THERE IS A SLIGHT RISK OF RIP CURRENTS ALONG THE ATLANTIC BEACHES TODAY DUE TO EAST WINDS OF NEAR 15 MPH.

THUNDERSTORMS: THERE IS A SLIM CHANCE OF A THUNDERSTORM DEVELOPING ALONG THE GULF COAST LATE THIS AFTERNOON INTO EARLY THIS EVENING.A FEW LIGHTNING STRIKES WOULD BE THE PRIMARY IMPACT SHOULD ANY STORM MANAGE TO DEVELOP.

.DAYS TWO THROUGH SEVEN...TUESDAY THROUGH SUNDAY

THE CHANCE OF THUNDERSTORMS WILL INCREASE LATE IN THE WEEK AS MOISTURE SLOWLY INCREASES ACROSS THE AREA.

.SPOTTER INFORMATION STATEMENT...
SPOTTER ACTIVATION WILL NOT BE NEEDED.

Member Since: July 11, 2006 Posts: 14 Comments: 11358
1222. ILwthrfan
12:53 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
This is going to hamper rescue efforts ...



Member Since: February 2, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1526
1217. emcf30
12:39 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
Quoting islander101010:
fished the flats ive been fishing since ive been married 25yrs there are no sandys spots anymore every spring we have fished around these shoals. there are no spots to beach the kayak. islands worldwide are reporting water rises. think florida is the exception?


I obviously misunderstood your first post
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1937
1215. IKE
12:35 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
TWC just said Dr. Greg Forbes thinks the Joplin,Missouri tornado was an EF4.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
1214. islander101010
12:28 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
fished the flats ive been fishing since ive been married 25yrs there are no sandys spots anymore every spring we have fished around these shoals. there are no spots to beach the kayak. islands worldwide are reporting water rises. think florida is the exception?
Member Since: September 11, 2010 Posts: 1 Comments: 4777
1213. TampaTom
12:27 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
I'm just stunned looking at that damage from the medical center. Not sure what the final rating will be, but that was definitely a direct hit.
Member Since: June 20, 2005 Posts: 22 Comments: 1054
1212. muddertracker
12:26 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
God bless all of the volunteers and hard workers in Joplin. May God shine His light on you as you continue your work.
Member Since: August 16, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 2350
1211. emcf30
12:25 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1937
1210. emcf30
12:23 PM GMT on May 23, 2011

Pic of tornado before coming rain wrapped outside of Joplin
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1937
1209. emcf30
12:19 PM GMT on May 23, 2011

Joplin Regional Medical Center
A destroyed helicopter lies on its side in the parking lot of the Joplin Regional Medical Center in Joplin, Mo., Sunday, May 22, 2011. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1937
1208. pottery
12:15 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
More Severe Weather, everywhere, is something we will all have to be dealing with if the predictions by Climate scientists are correct.
The flooding of the Mississippi is a good example of the after-effects of weather namely the melting of snows from a couple of months ago.
Tornadoes and storms are pretty immediate things, but the effects of weather systems can be felt months later, and in places far removed from the actual event.
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1207. emcf30
12:08 PM GMT on May 23, 2011
Member Since: August 7, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1937

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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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