Winter rainstorms contribute to near-record flooding along Mississippi River


Flooding in St. Louis, one of the hardest-hit areas along the Mississippi.
Flooding in St. Louis, one of the hardest-hit areas along the Mississippi. (TeamSaintLouis/Creative Commons)
KC McGinnis | December 31, 2015

Intense, unseasonal flooding along the Mississippi River this month is wreaking havoc on cities from Missouri and Illinois to Texas. The rise of the Mississippi River to near record levels has affected millions of people so far and has already been linked to 20 deaths. A major factor in the flooding is the wet winter in Iowa and Minnesota, where precipitation that would normally appear as snow has instead come down as rainfall in record amounts.

“When winter storms in December come as rain, the potential for flooding is high,” said Iowa Flood Center Director Witold Krajewski. “the ground is wet and saturated, often frozen, vegetation is dormant or absent, and the runoff goes to streams and rivers.”

The rainfall in Iowa this month has come in “mind blowing totals” according to the Iowa Environmental Mesonet, which reported that mid-December storms were likely the heaviest precipitation ever to hit Iowa during winter. With climate change as a major factor, these heavy and unpredictable storms are becoming the norm.

“While it is difficult to say how often we should expect significant rainfall in December,” said Krajewski, “we all are learning to expect the unexpected when it comes to weather.”

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