Extreme Drought to Extreme Flood: Weather Whiplash Hits the Midwest

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:42 PM GMT on April 19, 2013

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It seems like just a few months ago barges were scraping bottom on the Mississippi River, and the Army Corps of Engineers was blowing up rocks on the bottom of the river to allow shipping to continue. Wait, it was just a few months ago--less than four months ago! Water levels on the Mississippi River at St. Louis bottomed out at -4.57' on January 1 of 2013, the 9th lowest water level since record keeping began in 1861, and just 1.6' above the all-time low-water record set in 1940 (after the great Dust Bowl drought of the 1930s.) But according to National Weather Service, the exceptional April rains and snows over the Upper Mississippi River watershed will drive the river by Tuesday to a height 45 feet higher than on January 1. The latest forecast calls for the river to hit 39.4' on Tuesday, which would be the 8th greatest flood in history at St. Louis, where flood records date back to 1861. Damaging major flooding is expected along a 250-mile stretch of the Mississippi from Quincy, Illinois to Thebes, Illinois next week. At the Alton, Illinois gauge, upstream from St.Louis, a flood height of 34' is expected on Tuesday. This would be the 6th highest flood in Alton since 1844, and damages to commercial property in the town of Alton occur at this water level. In addition, record flooding is expected on at least five rivers in Illinois and Michigan over the next few days. A crest 1.5' above the all-time record has already occurred on the Des Plaines River in Chicago. This river has invasive Asian Carp that could make their way into Lake Michigan if a 13-mile barrier along the river fails during an extreme flood. Fortunately, NPR in Michigan is reporting today that U.S. Army Corps of Engineers crews stationed along the 13-mile Asian carp barrier have seen no evidence of the fish breaching the structure, and it would have taken a flood much larger than today's record flood to breach the structure. A crest on the Grand River in Grand Rapids, Michigan nearly 4' above the previous record (period of record: at least 113 years) is expected this weekend. At this flood level, major flooding of residential areas is expected, though the flood wall protecting downtown Grand Rapids will keep the commercial center of the city from flooding.


Figure 1. The rains that fell in a 24-hour period ending at 7 am EDT Thursday, April 18, 2013 over Northern Illinois were the type of rains one would expect see fall only once every 40 years (yellow colors), according to METSTAT, Inc. (http://www.metstat.com.) METSTAT computed the recurrence interval statistics based on gauge-adjusted radar precipitation and frequency estimates from NOAA Atlas 14 Volume 2, published in 2004 (http://dipper.nws.noaa.gov/hdsc/pfds/.) METSTAT does not supply their precipitation recurrence interval forecasts or premium analysis products for free, but anyone can monitor the real-time analysis (observed) at: http://metstat.com/solutions/extreme-precipitation-index-analysis/

Damages from the April 2013 Midwest U.S. flood in Illinois, Michigan, and Missouri are likely to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Some of the impacts at the flood levels predicted include:

St. Louis, MO:
Major flooding begins. At this level the Choteau Island Levee, protecting 2400 acres, is overtopped. Also, Lemay Park just south of Lemay Ferry Road will begin flood

Cape Girardeau, MO:
Many homes in the Cape Girardeau area are affected and evacuations may be required. Over 100,000 acres is flooded. Numerous roads are closed.

Hannibal, MO:
The Sny Island and South Quincy levees are overtopped between River Mile 315.4 and 264.3, flooding 110,000 acres. The South River levee is overtopped between River Mile 320.5 and 312.1, flooding 10,000 acres.

Quincy, IL:
Missouri Highway 168 east of Palmyra near the BASF plant closes; Quincy Waterworks inundated.

Note that sandbagging efforts may be able to prevent some of these flooding impacts from occurring. Wunderground's weather historian Christopher C. Burt discusses the latest rainfall and flooding records from this week's epic storm in his latest post. He plans on an update Friday afternoon.


Figure 2. Water levels on the Mississippi River at St. Louis are predicted to crest at 39.5', near major flood stage, on Tuesday. This would be the 8th greatest flood in history at St. Louis. Records at the St. Louis gauge to back to 1861. Image credit: National Weather Service.


Figure 3. Water levels on the Mississippi River at St. Louis bottomed out at -4.57' on 01/01/2013, the 9th lowest water level since record keeping began in 1861, and just 1.6' above the all-time low-water record set in 1940, after the great Dust Bowl drought of the 1930s. Image credit: National Weather Service.

Flood-Drought-Flood Weather Whiplash
Residents along the Mississippi River have experienced a severe case of flood-drought-flood weather whiplash over the past two years. The Mississippi reached its highest level on record at New Madrid, Missouri on May 6, 2011, when the river crested at 48.35'. Flooding on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers that year cost an estimated $5 billion. The next year, after the great drought of 2012, the river had fallen by over 53' to an all time record low of -5.32' on August 30, 2012. Damage from the great drought is conservatively estimated at $35 billion. Next Tuesday, the river is expected to be at flood stage again in New Madrid, 40' higher than the August 2012 record low. Now, that is some serious weather whiplash. I'm often asked about the seemingly contradictory predictions from climate models that the world will see both worse floods and worse droughts due to global warming. Well, we have seen a classic example in the Midwest U.S. over the past two years of just how this kind of weather whiplash is possible. A warmer atmosphere is capable of bringing heavier downpours, since warmer air can hold more water vapor. We saw an example of this on Thursday morning, when an upper air balloon sounding over Lincoln, Illinois revealed near-record amounts of moisture for this time of year. The precipitable water--how much rain could fall if one condensed all the water vapor in a column above the ground into rain--was 1.62", just barely short of the Illinois April record for precipitable water of 1.64" set on April 20, 2000 (upper air records go back to 1948.) Thursday's powerful low pressure system was able to lift that copious moisture, cool it, and condense it into record rains. So how can you have worse droughts with more moisture in the air? Well, you still need a low pressure system to come along and wring that moisture out of the air to get rain. When natural fluctuations in jet stream patterns take storms away from a region, creating a drought, the extra water vapor in the air won't do you any good. There will be no mechanism to lift the moisture, condense it, and generate drought-busting rains. The drought that ensues will be more intense, since temperatures will be hotter and the soil will dry out more.

The new normal in the coming decades is going to be more and more extreme flood-drought-flood cycles like we are seeing now in the Midwest, and this sort of weather whiplash is going to be an increasingly severe pain in the neck for society. We'd better prepare for it, by building a more flood-resistant infrastructure and developing more drought-resistant grains, for example. And if we continue to allow heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide continue to build up in the atmosphere at the current near-record pace, no amount of adaptation can prevent increasingly more violent cases of weather whiplash from being a serious threat to the global economy and the well-being of billions of people.


Video 1. One person was hospitalized after a sinkhole swallowed three cars in the South Deering neighborhood on the Southeast Side of Chicago on Thursday, April 18, 2013. Witnesses said the hole opened up around 5 a.m. at 9600 South Houston Avenue, quickly growing from about 20 feet to about 40 feet. First two cars slid in, then a third as the hole widened, witnesses said. A fourth vehicle was towed from the edge as it was about to fall inside. The sinkhole was due to heavy flooding that broke a water main built in 1915.

Related Science
A 2010 study by Duke University scientists suggests that global warming is the main cause of a significant intensification in the Bermuda High that in recent decades has more than doubled the frequency of abnormally wet or dry summer weather in the Southeast United States. Thus, the Southeast U.S. may see greater than its share of "Weather Whiplash"--extreme droughts followed by extreme floods--in coming decades. Joe Romm at climateporgress.org has a post discussing the paper, with links to examples of how the Southeast U.S. has seen both extreme droughts and extreme floods since 2005.


Jeff Masters

Underpass flooding (aerojad)
Belmont St. at the Metra train station.
Underpass flooding

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337. SLU
Quoting java162:
good night everyone... normally in on here during the hurricane season but the weather we have experienced these past few days is extraordinary. im from the island of dominica in the lesser antillies. the eastern, southern central and northeastern areas of the island has been drenched with rain from a stationery trough system. in just 72hours over 16inches of rain has was recorded at the melvinhall airport in the northeast of the island. the rain has been much heavier in the south and southeast where estimates are about 2feet. and the rain continues to pour!


infrastructural damage due to landslides and floods have been tremendous. yesterday the main airport was shut down because a nearby river rose to record levels threatening flooding the airport area. today schools were closed and the head of the national football(aka soccer) was killed wen he drove into a 40foot wide cut in the main road linking the east to the capital.











Link
Link
http://weather.gov.dm/


I've been watching the radar closely all week and noticed that Dominica, Guadeloupe and Martinique have been severely battered. Keep safe.
Member Since: July 13, 2006 Posts: 13 Comments: 5368
Good for them....

Offshore oil drilling stopped in Belize
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nice looking storm
though it's pretty weak...1008 mb

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334. etxwx
Rare snow hits North China
Updated: 2013-04-19 13:18 (Xinhua)
BEIJING - People in many areas of North China had to don more clothes to keep warm on Friday as the region was swept by a cold snap and snowy weather, which is rare at this time of the year. Snow fell in Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei province early on Friday. The city has witnessed temperatures as high as 30 degrees Celsius recently. The snowfall came later than in any other year since Shijiazhuang began recording this data in 1955. The previous record was April 12, 2006. Normally, the city sees its last snow in in early March each year.

Temperatures in Hebei will further fall to as low as minus eight degrees on Saturday in Zhangjiakou and Chengde, in the north of the province, said the provincial meteorological bureau. The province began to see rainfall on Thursday night and then snow. "The snowy weather was because of the sharp plunge in temperatures," said Guo Yingchun, an expert with the bureau.

Snow also fell in Taiyuan, the capital of North China's Shanxi province, on Friday. The city saw temperatures of up to 31 degrees a week ago. The snap also brought a cloudy day to Beijing. Temperatures in the Chinese capital are three to eight degrees on Friday, with rain forecast.
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just as expected the squall line is weakening now because of the south winds off the cold water will weaking the t.storms from new haven to boston.. the temp in new haven down to 58F ..
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good night everyone... normally in on here during the hurricane season but the weather we have experienced these past few days is extraordinary. im from the island of dominica in the lesser antillies. the eastern, southern central and northeastern areas of the island has been drenched with rain from a stationery trough system. in just 72hours over 16inches of rain has was recorded at the melvinhall airport in the northeast of the island. the rain has been much heavier in the south and southeast where estimates are about 2feet. and the rain continues to pour!


infrastructural damage due to landslides and floods have been tremendous. yesterday the main airport was shut down because a nearby river rose to record levels threatening flooding the airport area. today schools were closed and the head of the national football(aka soccer) was killed wen he drove into a 40foot wide cut in the main road linking the east to the capital.











Link
Link
http://weather.gov.dm/
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Quoting bluheelrtx:
I hate to say it, but those roads look better than the ones here in Texas.


They may be newer. 2/3 of all Chinese paved highways have been built since 2000.
Member Since: August 9, 2011 Posts: 26 Comments: 9048
Well, I had an eventful day. When school was let out, I went to baseball field for a game but the game was cancelled so I stayed around for practice and had a great time. I did noticed that it was windy, though. After the practice, I went to a kickball tournament and played kickball with my friends until storms were close to Raleigh, NC area. I had a great time, although these sandstorms being produced by winds were killing my eyes. I finally left when we got issued severe thunderstorm warning and got time when it started to pour. Winds were very strong, but there was no lightnings until rain stop falling. It was pretty weak thunderstorms that went through my area, though. I had a great day :)
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Quoting etxwx:
Sandstorms strike Northwest China

Residents brave sandstorms in Bohu county, Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, April 18, 2013. The county was swept by sand and thunder storms Thursday. [Photo/Xinhua]

Bohu county in Xinjiang is shrouded in sandstorm on April 18, 2013. [Photo/Xinhua]
I hate to say it, but those roads look better than the ones here in Texas.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
I guess this is all I'm getting.


Doesn't look too shabby, TAX.
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just as expected the squall line is weakening now
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

There have been multiple reports of trees down in the outskirts of D.C. Just because it wasn't bad at your house doesn't mean it wasn't at others.
Aww to bad that's them.I'm talking about my experience.It didn't do anything outside the normal type thunderstorm range.
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Very strong storms heading east across North Carolina right now.
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I guess this is all I'm getting.

Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 33127
Quoting MAweatherboy1:
Today should've been a moderate risk day for wind.



Assuming the storm report page is accurate, the tornado in GA earlier today has been rated an EF2.


I don't know if you read a post I put up earlier, but today and yesterdays SPC outlooks should have switched. Yesterday was a marginal event, today was definitely significant, I think enough for a moderate risk, although I didn't see it coming either.
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re. 320 You can stick to them or change them whenever you want...I'll make the adjustments
re. 319 Ok, I'll change them
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I am sticking with 14/8/3
Member Since: August 9, 2011 Posts: 26 Comments: 9048
Quoting trHUrrIXC5MMX:


thank you ma'am.
place for 96th!

got it...I was going to ask you that.

4 more...

Screw it, I'll do another...20/11/4
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Congrats to law enforcement and also the people of Boston. Very, very sad state of affairs there for everyone, including the suspects. a pity...all of it
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Quoting trHUrrIXC5MMX:


thank you ma'am.
place for 96th!

4 more...


Oh tis ok :) Always a bit behind with joining in me :P


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Quoting mitthbevnuruodo:


Ok fine...just cause you have a goal with it LOL

15/4/5



Sorry, about to go to bed and very tired...switch last 2 haha
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Quoting mitthbevnuruodo:


Ok fine...just cause you have a goal with it LOL

15/4/5



thank you ma'am.
place for 96th!

got it...I was going to ask you that.

4 more...
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Quoting trHUrrIXC5MMX:

thanks...good source of advise you got there...
I have a teddy bear (yeah, still... for 7 years), some advise from him is good as well.

you are the 95th...!
we could reach 100 today..just 5 more.. come on guys


adding to what MAboy said...


Ok fine...just cause you have a goal with it LOL

15/4/5

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Today should've been a moderate risk day for wind.



Assuming the storm report page is accurate, the tornado in GA earlier today has been rated an EF2.
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it has gotten really windy here ahead of the storm which is still far away from my location

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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

There have been multiple reports of trees down in the outskirts of D.C. Just because it wasn't bad at your house doesn't mean it wasn't at others.


She should have read my post earlier about the nature of severe thunderstorms and microbursts :)
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this hurricane season is predicted to be active..
what does it tell you?

pick some numbers out the jar, get advise from someone, ask your pillow/toy/cow/dog/car...etc
you don't have to be so scientific about it.

you can even ask Siri on your iPhone or tablet..come on, we can make it to 100!

I'll chalk you in my chart
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308. etxwx
On China Daily:
Updated: 2013-04-20 08:35
CHENGDU - A 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit Southwest China's Sichuan province on 8:02 am Saturday Beijing Time, according to the China Earthquake Networks Center (CENC).

The epicenter, with a depth of 13 km, was monitored at 30.3 degrees north latitude and 103.0 degrees east longitude.

Residents in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan, and Leshan felt the earthquake.
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I'm so glad they got him, we can sleep easy tonight.

As was just posted, there's just been another strong earthquake, this time in SW China, the USGS put the magnitude at 6.6 while the EMSC was slightly higher at 6.8.

Edit: Here's a link to the "Pager" system earthquake analysis tool for that China quake, just made available.

Link

It's an automated system and can be very wrong sometimes, but from what I've seen it's quite accurate with its estimations most of the time. Unfortunately, it doesn't look too good in this case, with it's best estimate being anywhere from 100 to 1,000 fatalities.
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Quoting etxwx:


Here ya go, Max...
I consulted with the cows, but they couldn't agree on the numbers...so I'm going with their average. :)

17/6/3


thanks...good source of advise you got there...
I have a teddy bear (yeah, still... for 7 years), some advise from him is good as well.

you are the 95th...!
we could reach 100 today..just 5 more.. come on guys


adding to what MAboy said...
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305. etxwx
Quoting trHUrrIXC5MMX:


getting closer


Here ya go, Max...
I consulted with the cows, but they couldn't agree on the numbers...so I'm going with their average. :)

17/6/3

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6,6 earthquake in China


It's over, finally Now I want to know what this kid has in his mind
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FINALLY
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302. txjac
Quoting ncstorm:


We need answers..he could have been operating with a cell or cells..killing him wouldnt have provided any answers..Im glad he is caught and he will talk..eventually..


I dont believe that we can really get anything from him ...he worshipped his older brother ...and I think he was the one that influenced him ..
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.
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299. beell
Quoting txjac:


This is sad and rotten of me ...but I was kinda hoping that either he was taken out or did himself in ...now he gets to live with TV and three squares over his head for years before we really get justice


and a daily dip in the pool at gitmo.
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298. txjac
Quoting fmhurricane2009:
SUSPECT IN CUSTODY! They caught him ALIVE! What a relief! We will actually be able to know what happened instead of conspiracy theorist going rampant. Finally a good ending to what has been a hellish week in Boston.


This is sad and rotten of me ...but I was kinda hoping that either he was taken out or did himself in ...now he gets to live with TV and three squares over his head for years before we really get justice
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what a contrast in temperatures...

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g'nite folks ... g'nite Skye ... my wake up call is 4am ... cheers all
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295. txjac
Suspect in custody!
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SUSPECT IN CUSTODY! They caught him ALIVE! What a relief! We will actually be able to know what happened instead of conspiracy theorist going rampant. Finally a good ending to what has been a hellish week in Boston.
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Quoting MAweatherboy1:
Powerful squall line continues to work its way to the coast, lots of damaging wind reports:



In other news, the Boston bombing suspect is cornered, and hopefully very near being captured. I sure hope so, this state needs a break, it's been a tough week for people here, especially in the Boston area.


yep...in about an hour or two should move across my area

Quoting Seattleite:
In hopes of your reaching 100 people, I would like to add my forecast to the list...

20/9/4


thanks you Seattleite... You're the 94th...
getting closer
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Don't mess with Boston
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And now everybody cheers:

The suspect is in custody and alive.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 33127
Done
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In hopes of your reaching 100 people, I would like to add my forecast to the list...

20/9/4
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Quoting washingtonian115:
Wait that was it?.No really.That was it and it was tornado warned this "server" thunderstorm was pathetic.And you wonder why people become complacent..

There have been multiple reports of trees down in the outskirts of D.C. Just because it wasn't bad at your house doesn't mean it wasn't at others.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 113 Comments: 33127
Quoting Slamguitar:
Pure comedy.
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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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