The flooding resulted from a series of storms that pushed through the Central and Southeast U.S. in late December, including the storms that resulted in two tornado outbreaks that killed 21 people. Rainfall totals across a huge portion of the Mississippi River basin were two to six times that of an average year. In the subsequent days, the water levels along the river grew to record-challenging levels.
Below are tighter views, showing the regions around St. Louis and Miller City, Ill.
On the first day of 2016, the Mississippi River crested at its third-highest level on record in St. Louis. On Jan. 2, the flood crested at a record level downstream from St. Louis at Cape Girardeau, Mo., where the river reached 48.86 feet — over six feet above major flood stage. Eleven levees were breached along the Mississippi River.
Though the water is beginning to recede in the Midwest, the giant bulge in the rivers will continue downstream over the next week.
Jeff Masters, the director of meteorology at Weather Underground, suspects flood structures will need to be opened in the coming days as the flood migrates downstream. In New Orleans, the river is forecast to rise to 17 feet on Jan. 12, which is just three feet below the tops of the levees. Masters notes that in past years, the Army Corps of Engineers chose to open spillways upstream of New Orleans to divert water into Lake Pontchartrain, which prevents the river from reaching flood stage in New Orleans.
But the timing of this flood could prove to be significant if the levees are damaged. “After the great 2011 flood, about a billion dollars was required to bring the levee system back to the state it was in before is was damaged by the flood,” Masters wrote. “The Army Corps will not have much time to do repairs before the annual spring flood arrives in May on the Mississippi, so the levee system will be much more vulnerable than usual to major flooding.”