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'Off the Charts': Catastrophic Flooding Wallops Midwest

A "bomb cyclone" storm along with warm temperatures contributed to still-unfolding disaster

The Nebraska National Guard prepares to carry out an air rescue near Arlington.

The Nebraska National Guard prepares to carry out an air rescue near Arlington. (Photo: @NEStatePatrol)

Nebraska residents are bracing for more record-breaking river levels as major flooding continues to affect portions of the Midwest.

The still-unfolding catastrophe caused at least three known deaths across the region.

The Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said Sunday that 17 locations across the state had been hit by record flooding, and more records could be broken over the next two days. Flooding in some areas may continue until next weekend, the agency added.

"Major to historic river flooding is expected to continue across parts of the Missouri and Mississippi River Basins," the National Weather Service warned Monday, "due to rapid snow melt the past few days."

Suggesting the still-unfolding catastrophe is a sign of a "hot new world," climate activist and author Bill McKibben tweeted, "The Midwest flooding is off the charts—at places in Nebraska, the Missouri is four feet higher than it's ever been before."

Copernicus, the European Union's Earth Observation Program, captured images of the flooding in the Cornhusker State, and said its magnitude was "biblical":

"This really is the most devastating flooding we've probably ever had in our state's history, from the standpoint of how widespread it is," Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said Monday.

While Nebraska may be the most intensely affected at the moment, it is far from the only state hit by flooding. Iowa and Wisconsin also declared states of emergency as a result of of major flooding, and the graphics below show others in the Missouri and Mississippi River Basins that are facing rising waters:

The Weather Channel attributed the flooding to "a perfect storm of meteorological factors" including a "bomb cyclone" storm that brought snow and rain.

Meteorologist Jeff Masters broke down the details last week:

The heavy rains from the bomb cyclone were accompanied by very warm temperatures which melted a snowpack of 5-13" of snow. The snowpack had a high liquid water content—equivalent to an extra 1-3" of rain falling—since the snow had been accumulating and compacting since early February. When Wednesday's warm temperatures in the 50s and 60s and heavy rain melted the snow, the runoff flowed very quickly into the rivers, because the frozen ground was unable to absorb much water to slow things down. Many of the flooding rivers had thick ice covering them, due to the long stretch of cold weather the Midwest endured this winter. When the huge pulse of floodwaters entered the rivers, this caused the ice to break up and create ice jams, which blocked the flow of the rivers, causing additional flooding.

"Throughout Nebraska and the Midwest, our friends are dealing with the worst flooding in half a century," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)  said in tweet over the weekend. "We must provide immediate help to those suffering. Long-term, we must take bold steps to stop climate change, which makes extreme flooding much worse."

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