Mississippi River sets all-time flood records; 2nd major spillway opens

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:06 PM GMT on May 09, 2011

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The Mighty Mississippi continues to wreak havoc as the river's highest flood crest in history pushes southwards near Memphis, Tennessee today. The river crested at its highest height on record over the past four days along a 70-mile stretch from New Madrid, Missouri to Tiptonville, Tennessee, to Caruthersville, Missouri, smashing records that had stood since the great flood of 1937. The flood height of 47.6' at Caruthersville, Missouri, on Saturday was a full 1.6 feet above the previous record flood height, set in 1937. However, thanks in part to decision by the Army Corps of Engineers last Monday to intentionally destroy a levee at Birds Point on the west bank of the Mississippi, pressure on the levees along this stretch of river was substantially reduced, potentially preventing multi-billion-dollar levee breaches. Currently, the Mississippi is expected to reach its 2nd highest level on record at Memphis on May 10, cresting at 48.0'. The all-time record at Memphis occurred during the great flood of 1937, when the river hit 48.7'. Downstream from Memphis, flood waters pouring in from the Arkansas River, Yazoo River, and other tributaries are expected to swell the Mississippi high enough to beat the all-time record at Vicksburg, Mississippi by 1.3' on May 19, and smash the all-time record at Natchez, Mississippi by six feet on May 21, and by 3.2 feet at Red River Landing on May 22. Red River Landing is the site of the Old River Control Structure, the Army Corps' massive engineering structure that keeps the Mississippi River from carving a new path to the Gulf of Mexico. I'll have a detailed post talking about the Old River Control Structure later this week. Its failure would be a serious blow to the U.S. economy, and the great Mississippi flood of 2011 will give the Old River Control Structure its most severe test ever. Also of concern is the forecast for the Mississippi to crest at 19.5 feet in New Orleans on May 23. The levees in New Orleans protect the city for a flood of 20.0 feet--that is not much breathing room. Fortunately, rainfall of at most 0.5 inches is expected over the Lower Mississippi River watershed over the next five days, which should prevent flood heights from rising above the current forecast.


Figure 1. Opening of the Bonnet Carre' Spillway on March 17, 1997. The spillway was operational from March 17 to April 18, 1997, operating at a maximum flow of 243,000 cu ft/s (6,900 m3/s). Image credit: Army Corps of Engineers.

Bonnet Carre' Spillway opens
Today, the Army Corps of Engineers is setting in motion another key part of their plan to control the great flood of 2011. The Corps is opening the Bonnet Carre' Spillway to divert 250,000 cubic feet per second of water from the Mississippi River into Lake Pontchartrain, some 28 miles upstream from New Orleans. A large crane will traverse a 1.5 mile-long stretch of the Mississippi River and remove large wooden slats that will allow the river to spill northwards into a 6-mile long channel lined by guide levees, to Lake Pontchartrain. The land that will be inundated is uninhabited and is not farmed, unlike the land of the Birds Point-New Madrid Spillway that was inundated by last week's intentional levee breach. The main concern with opening the Bonnet Carre' Spillway is the impact of the Mississippi River's fresh water on the salt water ecosystems of Lake Pontchartrain. This is the 10th time since 1937 that the Bonnet Carre' Spillway has been opened. The Army Corps is considering opening the final spillway they have in reserve, the great Morganza Spillway in Louisiana, late this week. The Army Corps has never opened all three Lower Mississippi River spillways at the same time. The Morganza Spillway has been opened only once, back in 1973.


Figure 2. The last time the Bonnet Carre Spillway was opened was in 2008. The International Space Station captured this image of the muddy brown waters of the Mississippi flooding into Louisiana's Lake Pontchartrain, just upstream from New Orleans. Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory.

Good links to follow the flood:
Summary forecast of all crests on Lower Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.
Wundermap for Cairo, IL with USGS River overlay turned on.
National Weather Service "May 2011 Mississippi River Flood" web page

Jeff Masters

Flooding In Tennessee (sunrisejake)
The flood waters of the Obion River and the Mighty Mississippi River has taken over many communities in Northwest Tennessee. This small Community of Bogota in Dyer County is only one of many that is now a disaster area.
Flooding In Tennessee
Mississippi River at Memphis Greenbelt Park Flood at 47.6 ft 6 (Barb)
This is the parking lot to the park that I posted pictures of a few days ago. Now the entire lot is under water.
Mississippi River at Memphis Greenbelt Park Flood at 47.6 ft 6

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Quoting hydrus:
No...If conditions this year were similar to the conditions back in 05, they might use it as an analog year.


Ok.... I think Ive got it.. Thank you
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Quoting earthlydragonfly:




To clarify (for my understanding).... 2005 would not have an analog years since it had a record number of storms... correct?
No...If conditions this year were similar to the conditions back in 05, they might use it as an analog year.
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Hey hydrus...
Those are some REAL BIG image files you're posting.

Stuff that large should probably be linked so they don't load automatically.

This, of course, is only my OPINION; but, just so you know, people reading on smartphone browsers don't have the same memory overhead that desktop users enjoy.

I'm really not trying to play blog police.

Just mentioning it because once the season hits I'm sure there will be plenty of folks here looking for information and the big stuff like high-res images and animations can cause force closes on mobile browsers. Especially if there are multiple LARGE files that happen to fall on a page.

Please don't take this the wrong way!
Member Since: June 14, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 2106
Quoting Cotillion:
I'd probably disagree with your analog years, Hydrus - all are Nino-to-Nina years at least in ENSO terms, which this one won't be.


i thought last year was neutral? What is this year...
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Quoting hydrus:
Past hurricane seasons with atmospheric and oceanic conditions similar to this years hurricane season are called Analog Years.




To clarify (for my understanding).... 2005 would not have an analog years since it had a record number of storms... correct?
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Quoting earthlydragonfly:
Afternoon folks...... I have a question as to the definition of "Analog years" as it pertains to Hurricanes.. Can someone answer that for me or point me to a good link that would explain it to me..

Thanks
Past hurricane seasons with atmospheric and oceanic conditions similar to this years hurricane season are called Analog Years.
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Afternoon folks...... I have a question as to the definition of "Analog years" as it pertains to Hurricanes.. Can someone answer that for me or point me to a good link that would explain it to me..

Thanks
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Quoting Patrap:
er,,Gustav was a Bad Cane in 08 as well.

Maybe note the wu hurricane archive.


Yeah - beat the crap up out of BR, which surprised a lot of people it could do that so far inland being that it was only a Cat 2 at landfall.

Gustav and Ike was some kind of a 1,2 punch for the petrochem industry. I think about everyone was down Sept '08.
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Hurricane Gustav (pronounced /ˈɡʊstɑːv/) was the second most destructive hurricane of the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season. The storm was the seventh tropical cyclone, third hurricane, and second major hurricane of the season. Gustav caused serious damage and casualties in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, Cuba and the United States. Gustav caused at least $6.6 billion (2008 USD) in damage. Gustav triggered the largest evacuation in United States history. More than 3 million people fled the oncoming hurricane.



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er,,Gustav was a Bad Cane in 08 as well.

Maybe note the wu hurricane archive.
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Quoting Jax82:


The sunsets have been a lot more colorful the past 5 days or so, thanks to the smoke.
It's all good. A natural and beneficial process in the swamp, and I love the smell of a campfire.
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Radar image of Ike making landfall...
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I got it straight now...2008 was the Dolly and Ike show. Dolly was a very interesting storm. I remember the blog during that one..;) Ike..well..that was very different--rightly so.
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Hurricane Ike approaching Texas 2008...
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Thanks yall. I knew it was an 8...
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89. Skyepony (Mod)
Quoting muddertracker:


Mitch was 2008, right?


I think Mitch was retired after 1998.
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Quoting muddertracker:


Mitch was 2008, right?
1998.
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Quoting StAugustineFL:
The Honey Prarie fire in the Okefenokee swamp has now scorched 61,000 acres and counting.

NWS Jax - THE HONEY PRAIRIE FIRE IN THE OKEFENOKEE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
HAS REACHED OVER 61000 ACRES. A PREVAILING NORTHERLY FLOW WILL
SEND SMOKE PLUMES TO THE SOUTH-SOUTHEAST TODAY. AN SPS PRODUCT IS
CURRENTLY ADDRESSING SMOKE-RELATED ISSUES







The sunsets have been a lot more colorful the past 5 days or so, thanks to the smoke.
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Quoting Skyepony:
ENSO wise 2007 going into 2008 is one of the most similar.



Mitch was 2008, right?
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Quoting Cotillion:


:D

Okay, my apologies. *Pertaining to the analog years that were contained within the post that may not be attributable to the original poster...

Absolved?
Absolutely..I have always liked and respected your posts...
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83. Skyepony (Mod)
ENSO wise 2007 going into 2008 is one of the most similar.

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Quoting hydrus:
lmao...There not mine you wanker...:)


:D

Okay, my apologies. *Pertaining to the analog years that were contained within the post that may not be attributable to the original poster...

Absolved?
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Man this thing is looking impressive for being so far north...

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Quoting Cotillion:
I'd probably disagree with your analog years, Hydrus - all are Nino-to-Nina years at least in ENSO terms, which this one won't be.
lmao...There not mine you wanker...:)
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Here's the ACOE's inundation map showing the estimated flood depths if Bonnet Carre spillway is 100% open and the Morganza spillway is at 50%:

Click for larger image:

Appropriate tropical weather-related image.
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I'd probably disagree with your analog years, Hydrus - all are Nino-to-Nina years at least in ENSO terms, which this one won't be.
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Quoting MississippiWx:


2011 shouldn't be anything close to 2010. We have way less heat in the tropics this year. In fact, Atlantic SSTs are very average for the most part so far. If we don't have weak El Nino conditions this year, I think it will at least be warm-neutral. I'm thinking 12-13 named storms max this year just based on recent trends.


I respectfully disagree with your analysis. There will be about the same amount of storms as 2010 for this upcoming year. Just my opinion, but things are in place to keep this year about the same as last year.
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 177 Comments: 20430
From the drenched fields of the Mississippi basin (sorry to hear about the damage and disruption, you guys really haven't had a good weather year so far) to bone dry Western Europe.

"The scale of just how dry the start of 2011 has been is evident in some fascinating data from one of Europe's latest Earth observation satellites.

Smos senses the moisture in the top layers of soil, and it is very clear in these maps that the ground across the UK and much of Europe is now gasping for water.

Last month was the warmest April on record in Britain.

It was also the 11th driest month, with on average just half the usual rainfall. And in parts of south-east England, there was less than 10% of normal precipitation.

--

At the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), researchers are experimenting with Smos data.

The ECMWF, which is based at Reading, UK, produces forecasts that look 10 days ahead and more, including making seasonal forecasts.

"We already have soil moisture data in our forecast system which does not use Smos, and our soil moisture data is already quite good. But there is potential to improve it with Smos," said the centre's Dr Patricia de Rosnay. "At the moment we are not sure at what range into the future, Smos data will be most useful to us in making forecasts."

Link

It really has been very warm, which is nice. Well above average, hitting above 70 pretty regularly. Some of the months in the last few summers have not been that prolific with heat.

However, aside the last couple of days with a few showers now and then, I don't really remember last time we had much rain. If any at all. Some places have had only about 3% of usual rainfall this time of year. We're not really complaining, but if it continues, I suspect some might - particularly if ends up being a precursor to 2003 again.
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Quoting jeffs713:
I'm with alfabob and CybrTeddy - 2010 is not a good analogue, and 2008 is MUCH better.
I agree too..I just mentioned it for the record.I am still looking at data before I make some kind of prediction. I did pretty good last year. I felt that 1969 was a good analog year. There were 18 named storms(possibly a couple more that should have been designated according to the experts)and 12 became hurricanes. We had 19 tropical storms and 12 hurricanes in 2010..I made a prediction of three hurricanes making cat-5 because of all the heat out there. Never even had one...
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Quoting alfabob:


I'm thinking that 2008 may be a good year for comparison also; ENSO patterns are very similar, although 2011 is maybe a month/month and a half ahead in terms of the signal I noticed (data at the end of Link - pgs 25,26).
2008 was a disastrous year for the U.S.,Cuba and Haiti...plees pick anudder one..:)
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I'm with alfabob and CybrTeddy - 2010 is not a good analogue, and 2008 is MUCH better.
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Quoting CybrTeddy:
2010 shouldn't be considered an analog year. 2008 should.


2011 shouldn't be anything close to 2010. We have way less heat in the tropics this year. In fact, Atlantic SSTs are very average for the most part so far. If we don't have weak El Nino conditions this year, I think it will at least be warm-neutral. I'm thinking 12-13 named storms max this year just based on recent trends.
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 17 Comments: 10156
The Honey Prarie fire in the Okefenokee swamp has now scorched 61,000 acres and counting.

NWS Jax - THE HONEY PRAIRIE FIRE IN THE OKEFENOKEE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
HAS REACHED OVER 61000 ACRES. A PREVAILING NORTHERLY FLOW WILL
SEND SMOKE PLUMES TO THE SOUTH-SOUTHEAST TODAY. AN SPS PRODUCT IS
CURRENTLY ADDRESSING SMOKE-RELATED ISSUES





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Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 177 Comments: 20430
2010 shouldn't be considered an analog year. 2008 should.
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Quoting alfabob:


Looks like it could go subtropical if it moved a little more to the south/SW. Big pool of 25C waters from the Gulf stream.

Already lookin darn good on satellite.
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The analog years for this hurricane season are 1964, 1998 and 2010. Though 2010 is an analog year, and only T.S.Bonnie made a direct hit on the U.S., they are still forecasting several U.S. landfalls. I believe this to be correct. I also believe storms this years will be mostly slow movers and more erratic, making long range forecasts more difficult. This also increases the chance of a powerful hurricane making landfall in our part of the world. jmo..Gulf moisture is increasing...
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Shearing winds are still whistlin!! Not much can happen in the tropics until these come down!
Member Since: September 2, 2007 Posts: 177 Comments: 20430
Interesting to see a Low like this off the coast of New England, and still have such a beautiful day here in eastern Massachusetts. I suppose its out there at 40/65, but has a pretty big arm of moisture on its west side.

Local mets have the storm moving little, with only 20-30% chance of showers over the next few days. Guess we will see with a high pressure to the NW. Should be gusty with the pressure gradient.

Northeast radar loop
Link

Burlington International Airport, VT
'Mostly Cloudy'
60 °F
(16 °C)
Humidity: 41 %
Wind Speed: NW 20 G 28 MPH
Barometer: 30.07" (1018.2 mb)
Dewpoint: 36 °F (2 °C)
Visibility: 10.00 mi.


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Quoting RastaSteve:


In years of La-Nina it is typical of an early start. Hince 2009 started around 5/10/2009 give or take. One main reason for all the above normal precip being predicted now is the fact a cut off low is forecast to dig south toward the Gulf coast of the Panhandle.

2010 started closer to the 16th.

Median start date is the 20th and La Nina's impacts to FL are waning. Therefore, not much supporting evidence for the early start you are claiming.

I'm really not trying to get into a pissing match with you. I just asked for the link to the source you mentioned where the NWS MLB forecasters are progging it to start this week.
Member Since: June 14, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 2106
More convection moving off of Africa..If this were to continue, the Atlantic will have an early start..jmo
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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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