KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Catastrophic flooding isn’t a new phenomenon in the Midwest. Billions of dollars in damage was incurred during the great floods of 1927, 1951, and 1993.
Could 2019 end up being the worst year for Midwest flooding in history? Here are a few reasons why this is a real threat:
First, a very active weather pattern set up in the fall, bringing the highest recorded precipitation from October to March to many locations along the Missouri and Mississippi river basins.
Rainfall and snowmelt totals for the Kansas City area since Oct. 1 stands at 22.61 inches — the most in recorded history during that time period.
There was 20 to 40 inches of snow on the ground in early March across the northern Great Plains and upper Midwest, which already puts the rivers at high levels.
When a “bomb cyclone” rocked the region March 13, dumping 2 to 5 inches of rain across Nebraska and South Dakota and into Minnesota, it unlocked another 6 to 8 inches of water in snowmelt. That created a surge of water atop the still-frozen ground, which produced a tremendous amount of rapid runoff into the Missouri River.
Downstream, the result was record flooding and broken levees, especially in Iowa and Nebraska as well northwest Missouri and in the St. Joseph area.
Second, an antiquated levee system, which hasn’t been updated in three decades, needs upgrades.
There was far less less urban development 30 or 40 years ago, including nothing but farmland south of 103rd Street in Johnson County, Kansas.
When heavy rain soaked the area back then, much of the water soaked in to the grassland, but urban sprawl means more concrete — and more concrete means that rain spills into creeks, streams, and eventually rivers rather than soaking into the ground.
Similar development has taken place throughout the Missouri and Mississippi river basins, which means there is much more water rapidly flowing into the rivers today than when the levee system was designed.
Levees either need to be taller or spaced farther apart, so the river is wider. While the technology to make that happen is there, it would cost millions of dollars to address the outdated levee system.
Infrastructure also hasn't been made priority.
Finally, the active weather pattern from the winter will continue through the spring and perhaps the summer.
Storm systems will cross the northern Great Plains and Midwest every few days — some small, but others medium or large.
They won’t all target the Kansas City area, but they will target some part of the Missouri and Mississippi river basins, which will bring that water our way.
Check out our spring forecast for more details.
River flooding is a long-term situation and something we will monitor closely this spring and summer, so stay tuned to 41 Action News for the latest and most accurate information about possibly severe weather.