The First Flood Warnings Issued

When you’ve been experiencing a massive drought (multiple years) and then suddenly have an exceptionally wet winter that leads to a wet spring, you get flash flooding. Most people don’t think of snow as rain, but it is and lots of snow equals lots of rain. How much exactly? For every 1 inch of rain, you get roughly 10 inches of snow.

Between November 2018 and March 14, 2019, my area of mid-Missouri received a total of 35 inches of snow. Or just over 3 inches of rain. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but we’ve been in a drought for the last 8 years or so. Plus, we normally only get 43 inches of rain in a year anyway. I’m fairly sure we got 9+ inches of rain before the snow started to fall.

And since the turn of the year? Just looking at 2019, we’ve had 23 inches of snow, which is just over 2 inches of rain. Then during the day of March 24, we got another inch of rain. So it’s March and we’ve gotten more than 3 inches of rain already and the “wet” season hasn’t even started yet, not really. Normally, April, May, September, and October are our wettest months averaging 5 1/2 inches of rain during each of these months.

That means those 4 months usually account for over half our rainfall in a year. While 3 inches in 3 months doesn’t sound like much, it is. Not to mention the dozen or so states that contribute water to the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. And all those states have gotten the same massive amount of snow that we have and are now getting pummelled with rain (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois for the Mississippi and Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, and Nebraska for the Missouri and the two rivers meet in St. Louis, Missouri). These rivers can’t be understood separately, they are the fourth largest river system in the world and the Missouri River is the longest in North America while the Mississippi is the second longest in North America.

And I’m not sure the drought cycle didn’t begin to end in August 2018. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a year as wet as this one. Not just the snow, but the massive amounts of rain. Even during the winter months, I remember thinking multiple times “at least it’s not so cold it’s snow”…

So why do flood warnings give me pause? Missouri doesn’t go underwater like coastal states such as Louisiana, but we are bisected by the Missouri River. In 1993 (the year of our last major flood) portions of Northern Missouri were cut off from portions of Southern Missouri unless you wanted to drive hundreds of miles out of the way. Even some minor flooding in 2001 created difficulties for me when I was living in Columbia, but working in the state capital of Jefferson City, just 37 miles from my driveway to my office building parking lot and minor flooding prevented me from going to work without driving either east or west 50 miles before heading south.

I don’t live close enough to the Missouri River (it’s 20 miles or so south of my house) to worry about it flooding us out, but I have a lot of friends in Southern Missouri and flooding could mean a separation that results in some changed plans. And we have a lot of friends in St. Louis. Our campground in Northern Missouri is 20 miles from Hannibal, Missouri where the 200th anniversary of the town is being celebrated this year and there is a lot planned for the celebration. Hannibal sits so close to the Mississippi River that the town has flood walls to help try and keep water out of the city. During major floods, the walls are useless.

Furthermore, tourism is a huge industry in Missouri and flooding affects it greatly, because the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers are part of it and so are three recreational lakes: Lake of the Ozarks, Mark Twain Lake (where our campground is) along with Table Rock Lake near Branson. Flooding could damage an economy that’s already struggling. Not to mention that we are supposed to be implementing medical marijuana. Jefferson City, our capital where all the paperwork for the medical marijuana industry is being processed, sits on the Missouri River. Massive flooding means lower tourism at towns like Hannibal, St. Louis, Kansas City, Branson, and the towns that surround Lake of the Ozarks. Not to mention the hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage.

Missouri isn’t California, Louisiana, Texas, or South Carolina. When we experience massive flooding, no one really notices the damage left in its wake. And flooding is often followed by more flooding. In 1993 we experienced the worst flood we’d ever had. It was followed up in 1995 by the fourth worst flood we’d ever experienced. However, because we aren’t one of these other massive tourist states, we don’t get federal funds very quickly. The flooding in 1993 was bad enough that it was declared a federal disaster, but it wasn’t until late 1994 that we got our first federal grant for clean-up and repair. The flooding in 1995 set all that back and it was another 2 years before the leevees and things could be rebuilt. Just because the water receded didn’t mean the crisis was over. But it was 1998 before we had a huge release of federal funds to assist with clean-up. I was working for the Missouri Department of Health by then and one of my first non-secretarial assignments was helping collect data on chronic illnesses related to flooding (there are a lot), but it took us that long to get the funding for the study from the CDC and NIH.

So, when the flood warnings start going out, I take a few moments to think about it. And it’s far too early in the year for flood warnings (the first is usually the end of April or first half of May).

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