John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Officials remain on alert for more of the swelling waters causing damage and death in the central U.S.
The pounding rains that have been blamed for more than 30 deaths in the central U.S. since late last month aren’t done causing trouble. Massive amounts of precipitation that have accumulated in the Mississippi River are sending water levels soaring, prompting dangerous floods in Missouri, Tennessee, and elsewhere.
On the ground, conditions can resemble a Venetian canal, as evidenced in the above photo of a surreal kayak expedition in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. But the record-breaking flooding is so vast it’s obvious from hundreds of miles above Earth, too. Here’s the region during a less-sodden period in January, 2015:
The space agency explains:
More than a week after heavy rains swamped parts of Missouri and Illinois in December 2015, communities along the Mississippi River are facing severe flooding. The rainfall between December 26–28 dropped at least 6 inches on many communities in an area 50 to 75 miles (80 to 120 kilometers) wide. Some areas saw more than 10 inches (25 centimeters).
On January 1, 2016, the Mississippi River crested at its third highest level on record for St. Louis. By January 2, the surge of water caused the highest flood on record at Cape Girardeau and Thebes, south of St. Louis. At Cape Girardeau, water levels peaked at 48.86 feet (14.89 meters). Above 32 feet is considered flood stage; above 42 feet is major flooding. The previous record was 48.50 feet.
With several levees already breached, authorities are on alert for swelling waters in the weeks ahead. The National Weather Service warns of “significant river flooding” in the lower portions of the Mississippi all the way into mid-January, and predicts the flooding will “crest in Tiptonville, Tennessee, on January 5; Memphis, Tennessee, on January 8, and Helena, Arkansas, on January 10.”