Missouri River flood hits unprecedented flow rates

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 3:18 PM GMT on June 17, 2011

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The most expensive tornado/severe weather disaster in American history is the great May 21 - 26, 2011 storm that spawned the Joplin, Missouri EF-5 tornado. According to catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide, insured damages from that storm will amount to $4 - $7 billion, the greatest damages ever for a spring severe weather outbreak. However, the damages from the huge, slow-moving low pressure system that spawned the Joplin tornado have not yet been fully realized. The powerful storm pumped huge quantities of warm, moisture-laden air from the Gulf of Mexico northwestwards into Montana, where the moisture condensed into record-breaking heavy rain and snow. In portions of eastern Montana, the storm brought a year's worth of precipitation in a week, swelling the tributaries of the Missouri River to unprecedented heights. Billings, Montana recorded 9.54" of precipitation in May, its single wettest month on record, and not far from its annual average precipitation of 14.5". A great 100-year flood has arrived along the Missouri River and its tributaries from Montana to Nebraska. Record spring rains, combined with snow melt from record or near-record winter and spring snows, brought the Missouri River at Williston, North Dakota to 30' today (June 17), two feet above the record crest set in 1912. Tributaries to the Missouri, such as the North Platte River in Nebraska, are also flooding at all-time record heights. With warm summer temperatures and 2 - 5" of rainfall expected over much of the area during the coming week, snow melt and rain runoff will swell area rivers even further, creating an even more dangerous flood.

Flooding along the Missouri River has already broken two levees and closed two portions of I-29, a key trucking route that extends from Kansas City through Iowa, South Dakota and North Dakota to the Canadian border. A 20-mile stretch between Council Bluffs and the Missouri Valley area is closed, as well as a 22-mile section in southwest Iowa and northwest Missouri, causing significant disruptions to the trucking industry.


Figure 1. Satellite image taken at 5:45pm CDT May 22, 2011, when the Joplin, Missouri tornado was occurring. The counter-clockwise flow of air around the spiraling low pressure system that caused the Joplin tornado drew large quantities of Gulf of Mexico air into Montana, creating record-breaking rains. Image credit: NASA/GSFC.



Figure 2. Levee breach along the Missouri River levee L-575 near Hamburg, Iowa, on June 14, 2011. The town of Hamburg is being protected by a new temporary levee. So far, only farmland has flooded. Image credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Army Corps cranks up water releases on Missouri River dams to double the previous record
Six flood control dams lie on the Missouri River between eastern Montana and Sioux City, Iowa; these dams were built between 1940 and 1964. As water from this spring's record precipitation have flowed into the Missouri River basin, the reservoirs behind these dams have risen to record levels. On May 31, the Army Corps of Engineers was forced to open the the spillway gates on the massive Garrison Dam, 50 miles northwest of Bismark, North Dakota. It was the first time since the dam was built in 1955 that the spillway gates were opened. (Remarkably, during 2007 and early 2008, Lake Sakakawea water levels behind Garrison Dam were the lowest since the dam was built--46 feet below the current level--thanks to a decade-long drought.) On June 3, as the record flood progressed downstream, the spillway gates on the Big Bend Dam opened for the first time since that dam was completed in 1964. This week, the Army Corps of Engineers increased water flowing through all six dams to more than double the previous highs set during the floods of 1975 and 1997. The flow rates are now a massive 150,000 cubic feet per second, 1.5 times greater than the typical flow of Niagara Falls. These extreme flow rates will need to be maintained into at least mid-August, and are expected to severely strain levees on the Missouri River as it flows through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, and Kansas. According to a press conference put on by NWS and the Army Corps last week, the Missouri River flood control system is based on an 1881 estimate of the maximum amount of water an extreme flood season could generate--40 million acre-feet of water during the spring and summer flood season. However, this year's flood is expected to pump 42 - 43 million acre feet of water into the system, stressing it beyond its designed limits. In May alone, the Missouri River basin just upstream from Sioux City, Iowa, received 10.2 million acre feet of water, more than 25% above the previous May record of 7.2 million acre feet set in 1995. Additional levee failures along the Missouri are likely this summer, particularly if widespread heavy summer rains occur.


Figure 3. The Oahe Reservoir Stilling Basin north of Pierre, S.D., on June 5, 2011. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers increased the water releases from the Oahe Dam into the stilling basin to a record 147,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water release on June 8. The previous record was 59,000 cfs in 1997. Image credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/ Carlos J. Lazo

Four-day period of critical fire conditions expected in the Southwest
Powerful southwest winds of 20 - 30 mph, gusting to 40 mph will continue through Saturday in Eastern Arizona and western New Mexico, making progress containing the region's severe fires difficult. Even worse conditions are begin predicted for Sunday, when NOAA's Storm Prediction Center forecasts forecasts that wind gusts up to 50 mph will occur. With hot conditions and humidity values below 10%, these are likely to be among the worst fire conditions the region has seen this year.

While the exceptional drought gripping Arizona is largely to blame for terrible fire conditions this year, unusually windy and dry weather has also been a significant factor. These windy and dry conditions have been caused, in part, by a stronger-than-average jet stream over the region. According to the National Weather Service in Phoenix, the period April-May 2011 was the 11th windiest and had the 6th lowest average relative humidity value on record in Phoenix. Combined, it was the 3rd windiest-driest April-May on record.

Our weather historian, Christopher C. Burt, has an interesting post on The Worst Wild Fires in World History. Arizona's Wallow Fire, at 750 square miles, has a long way to go before matching the largest fire in U.S. history, the great Peshtigo Fire of 1871. That fire burned 5,938 square miles of Wisconsin and Michigan.

Tallahassee hits 105Ā°, their hottest day on record
On Wednesday June 15 at 307 PM EDT, the Tallahassee Regional Airport in Florida recorded a high temperature of 105 degrees. This temperature breaks the previous all time high temperature record for Tallahassee of 104 degrees, set most recently on June 20th 1933. The period of record for Tallahassee dates back to 1892.

The Atlantic is quiet
The Atlantic is quiet, with no tropical cyclones predicted over the next seven days by the reliable computer models. However, the GFS model predicts that moisture will begin increasing early next week in the western Gulf of Mexico, and a tropical disturbance could form next week in the Gulf, bringing much-needed rains to the coast of Texas. Droughts of the magnitude of the current Texas drought are hard to break, though, so I'd like to see more support from the models before believing in this forecast.

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

Jeff Masters

ABANDONED For Wetland Project in Flood (BEME)
Another old farmstead,within the wetlands 'project'..near Highway 2 [to Nebraska City,Nebraska]..Water's getting higher. [photo taken Wednesday afternoon]
ABANDONED For Wetland Project in Flood
Won't be Open Much Longer (Nikongranny)
Highway 2 east of Nebraska City will be closing very soon.
Won't be Open Much Longer
Trying to Keep Ahead (Nikongranny)
of the approaching water. Crews working frantically building this earth berm to keep the advancing Missouri River out of Hamburg.
Trying to Keep Ahead

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Anyone still on the "classic view" other than me?
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Eyes- I have 2 jobs, one full time day shift, then another one in the evenings, 24-32 hours a week. Dayshift is a cancer center w/research, evenings is a huge hospital lab.

If I didn't have WU to keep me happy, I'd lose my mind, totally. It's the only thing that keeps me sane; that and the gardening.

:)
Member Since: August 13, 2005 Posts: 171 Comments: 26264
Quoting aquak9:
And the vid in post 350? Oh, forget everything I already wrote on the Christmas wish list- forget the backhoe, forget the plasma cutter, forget the Dopplar-In-Your-Yard:

I want one of those trucks!!!

I'd like to thank EVERYONE who makes these 16 hour work days bearable, Thank you!!


LOrdy Aqua, didnt know you worked those kind of hours........my goodness..
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Delicious virtual brownies going out to geepy, emcf, and ocean bug. Aqua too, with an edge.
Member Since: August 3, 2005 Posts: 10 Comments: 5644
Rookie- Houston floods real easy, doesn't it? Not gonna be if ya'll get a dousing.
Member Since: August 13, 2005 Posts: 171 Comments: 26264
And the vid in post 350? Oh, forget everything I already wrote on the Christmas wish list- forget the backhoe, forget the plasma cutter, forget the Dopplar-In-Your-Yard:

I want one of those trucks!!!

I'd like to thank EVERYONE who makes these 16 hour work days bearable, Thank you!!
Member Since: August 13, 2005 Posts: 171 Comments: 26264
Good evening all.

Since we are forecast to get some rain (FINGERS CROSSED! ) here next week, in the Houston area, I decided to perform a little experiment. My yard has been DRY for quite some time now and I wanted to know how fast the soil would absorb any water. I used my water hose and set the nozzle to a moderately flared stream so as not to "force" the stream into the soil. As I suspected, the water just ran along the top of the soil and did not soak in. The area I concentrated the stream on ended up with about an inch of water on it. When the water ran off I checked the depth that the water soaked in. There was very little water penetration into the soil. Maybe a 1/4" below the surface. I am left to wonder if even a moderate amount of steady rain over an hour's time would result in some flooding in the Houston area. A Texas style deluge is likely to cause some serious traffic problems. Not to mention that no one around here remembers how to drive on wet pavement anymore! ;-) I welcome the rain, even a serious downpour but, traffic conditions are bound to suffer with even a moderate rain. Just my thoughts.
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Quoting NttyGrtty:
At least 15 more posts to flip the page and get back to a normal line (for us old schoolers at least)...nite' to you patient posters


Well, I'll add this one to it.....hot and humid in Ms..same oh, same oh,....
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oh, my gosh! had to go back and finally see the video at post 241- WOW!! that'll be our newest WU-blogger, little Joshua!
Member Since: August 13, 2005 Posts: 171 Comments: 26264
At least 15 more posts to flip the page and get back to a normal line (for us old schoolers at least)...nite' to you patient posters
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Small area of convection growing in Caribbean.
Member Since: July 5, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1347
Trying to edit 380 to: dry BUT humid (as in no rain), but we have what we have...
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385. JRRP
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LOL...kinda like Pensacola; not much there, but it sticks to 'ya
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I can...gimme rain. Humidity is just a tease. Doesn't water anything but me...
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Quoting NttyGrtty:
Evening all...dry and humid in Navarre


So, your saying it's a wet dry? ;)
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Quoting NttyGrtty:
Evening all...dry and humid in Navarre
Evening. Much the same here. But after the long winter we've had, I can't complain about a little humidity.
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Evening all...dry and humid in Navarre
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Quoting 7544:


edit im counting the drops
XD
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378. 7544
Quoting PRZEDCASTER:

When do you think it's gonna freakin rain in SE Florida  ???????


right now look outside !

edit im counting the drops
Member Since: May 6, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 6871
Quoting centex:
Here is some graphics from home weather station. Hermine was Sep last year.


That doesn't look good at all
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Here is some graphics from home weather station. Hermine was Sep last year.

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I want that cloud here NOW!!!
and a brownie too. : O
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Cool video Neo
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Quoting PcolaDan:


Do you mean the skunk?


Thanks, I was not sure if that was battery operated or not :)
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Quoting aquak9:
Cosmic, cosmic, cosmic....

Actually I only had the jumbo marshmallows and had to cut'm up w/scissors.

Just kinda mix'm into the top layer. They get all bubbly n chewy after the bake.

Boy that cloud is now moving North, just went over my house.

Please send some Brownies South. Thanks
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Quoting Ossqss:


Do you mean the skunk?
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We got some serious flooding from Hermine. The drought started a couple months after this.

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Quoting Neapolitan:350--

Excellent videos. I think the last one is best for illustrating perfectly what a microburst is, and what it can do, so I'm reproducing it here:



Nice stuff, but what was the thingy that was shown at 3:49
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Quoting CosmicEvents:
I just saw a cloud....moving west!
.
.
And I'm disgusted......I just finished making brownies, and I forgot about adding Aquak's mini-marshmallows.
.
sigh......now I'm gonna' have to eat these asap and make another batch with marshmallows.


I think that cloud just went by...

Some of us can help you clear out that first batch. I'll wash the pan while you mix the second batch?

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367. srada
It looks like the nogaps now has the storm off the VA/NC coast along with the GFS and CMC..

Nogaps


the CMC


Member Since: August 17, 2006 Posts: 1 Comments: 774
Quoting aquak9:
Cosmic, cosmic, cosmic....

Actually I only had the jumbo marshmallows and had to cut'm up w/scissors.

Just kinda mix'm into the top layer. They get all bubbly n chewy after the bake.
aaahhhh...I'm dying. Brownie ends with burnt marshmallow topping. That's a category 5 sweet treat.
Member Since: August 3, 2005 Posts: 10 Comments: 5644
Quoting cat5hurricane:

You guys don't need the rain. Common now. No, just kidding. You're drought is probably three times worse than ours on the southwest coast of FL.
Ok, but no course of action required. We are at the mercy of mother nature. We have seen lots of 20,30,40 percent chances end up dry for most part. That's what makes a drought, even the chances of rain don't pan out.
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Quoting twincomanche:
Hope is not a course of action. Look at the forecasts people.


Forecast shmorcast :(
Cosmic, cosmic, cosmic....

Actually I only had the jumbo marshmallows and had to cut'm up w/scissors.

Just kinda mix'm into the top layer. They get all bubbly n chewy after the bake.
Member Since: August 13, 2005 Posts: 171 Comments: 26264
Quoting centex:
After it rains in central Texas.

You guys don't need the rain. Common now. No, just kidding. You're drought is probably three times worse than ours on the southwest coast of FL.
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Quoting Hurrykane:


You get a net downward motion over the EPAC due to the cold PDO, and net upward motion in the Atlantic due to the differences in temperatures (anomalies). Mother nature "sees" this difference, and the warmer Atlantic has the upward motion vice the EPAC.
Right

I was just wondering if there was something other than the upward vs downward motion as a result of a cooler epac tropical region, like maybe steering patterns or something
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Quoting centex:
After it rains in central Texas.
Hope is not a course of action. Look at the forecasts people.
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Quoting PRZEDCASTER:

When do you think it's gonna freakin rain in SE Florida  ???????
After it rains in central Texas.
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349. It's aqua-k9, not aquak-9. You mean aqua's marshmallows.
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When do you think it's gonna freakin rain in SE Florida  ???????
Quoting TomTaylor:
I'm not saying you are wrong, but could you explain how does a cold PDO cause the Atlantic to be more active?

The only thing I can come up with is that it favors La Nina or neutral conditions more than El Nino conditions


You get a net downward motion over the EPAC due to the cold PDO, and net upward motion in the Atlantic due to the differences in temperatures (anomalies). Mother nature "sees" this difference, and the warmer Atlantic has the upward motion vice the EPAC.
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Warm PDO

1997


2009


Cold PDO

2010


2011
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Quoting Tropicsweatherpr:


In other words, cold PDO combining with cold Gulf of Guinea, is a combination that for sure will cause the season to be very active to maybe hyperactive.
I'm not saying you are wrong, but could you explain how does a cold PDO cause the Atlantic to be more active?

The only thing I can come up with is that it favors La Nina or neutral conditions more than El Nino conditions
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GFS has INV. 92 hooking back toward the GOM. Is there a chance it could make into the GOM.
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Well, we had a Super Sized portion of lightning outside of Tampa, but a kiddy sized amount of rain. Beggars can't be choosers, and I'm certainly begging!

Even my palm trees are dying. The fronds are turning brown :(
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Quoting Levi32:


What is this lol.

"Since the mid-1970s, the PDO has been in a "warm" phase, in which winds drive the upwelling of cold water from the deep ocean to the surface close to the shoreline.

But now it appears to be flipping into a "cool" phase, in which that upwelling of cold water will weaken, leaving surface waters warmer.
"

That is the exact opposite of what happens folks.




Levi, I think them guys are smoking something.
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Quoting Barefootontherocks:


The highest measured wind speed occurred over the northern and central portions of Norman, where an anemometer measured 82 mph.
NWS Norman June 14, 2011 Severe wind Event in Central Oklahoma

Some good vids on that page where you can see the downburst happen. Also an explanation of what a downburst is.

Excellent videos. I think the last one is best for illustrating perfectly what a microburst is, and what it can do, so I'm reproducing it here:

Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 13604
I just saw a cloud....moving west!
.
.
And I'm disgusted......I just finished making brownies, and I forgot about adding Aquak's mini-marshmallows.
.
sigh......now I'm gonna' have to eat these asap and make another batch with marshmallows.
Member Since: August 3, 2005 Posts: 10 Comments: 5644
Quoting Levi32:
The PDO is currently cold. The SSTs off the west coast of North America are currently cold. The sea surface height anomalies are lower than normal. I have seen this effect of the PDO completely consistently. I have never seen a negative PDO raise the sea level off the western USA, and neither have I seen a warm PDO lower it. Warm water thermally expands. Cold water thermally contracts.

Exactly. Which is why SSH anomalies are usually proportional to SST anomalies.
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Quoting Levi32:


Well I have a link lol.

I think what he's saying has more to do with right now, as opposed to 6-8 days down the road when the next tropical wave comes. As of right now, the steering flow seems pretty set to me.

GFS Day 8: 2nd wave coming into the western Caribbean moving northwest.




Yes, I knew what he was saying, which is why I responded to his question about the current moisture first, and and what would happen in a few days. I "bifurcated" my sentence. LOL
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 26848

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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.