Other Upper Mississippi River Valley Floods

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Besides the spring flooding of 1965, there have been eleven other notable floods along the upper portions of the Mississippi River.  By clicking the links below, you can find additional information on each of these floods. 

  • 1880 (June)
  • 1951 (April to early May)
  • 1952 (April to early May)
  • 1954 (early to mid May)
  • 1967 (early to mid April)
  • 1969 (April to early May)
  • 1975 (late April to mid May)
  • 1986 (April)
  • 1993 (mid June to mid July)
  • 1997 (April)
  • 2001 (mid April to mid May)

1880 (June):

Flood crests established from June 19-22 of this year along the Mississippi River were not exceeded until 1965 at many locations along the river.  At both La Crosse, WI and Lansing, IA, the 1880 crests are still the second and third highest on record, respectively. Information about the causes of this flood is somewhat sketchy, but May and June in northeast Iowa and adjacent portions of southwest Wisconsin and southeast Minnesota were extremely wet.  Clermont, IA had more than 9 inches of rain in June, Neillsville, WI, 7.40"; and La Crosse, WI, 6.60".

1951 (April to early May):

During the winter of 1950-51, Minnesota received an average precipitation of 3.04 inches (0.80 inches wetter than the 1901-2000 average) and Wisconsin received an average precipitation of 4.49 inches (0.99 inches wetter than the 1901-2000 average). The wet weather continued into March of 1951. Minnesota had an average precipitation of 2.52 inches (1.27 inches wetter than the 1901-2000 average) and Wisconsin had an average precipitation of 3.33 inches (1.53 inches wetter than the 1901-2000 average). In addition to the wet weather, March of 1951 was colder than average. Minnesota had an average temperature of 17.9 degrees (8.2 degrees colder than the 1901-2000 average) and Wisconsin had an average temperature of 24.3 degrees (4.6 degrees colder than the 1901-2000 average). These colder than average temperatures slowed the melting of the snow pack and this led to minor to moderate flooding from April into early May. Fortunately, April of 1951 was drier than average which helped lower the potential crests.

Lake City, MN went above flood stage on April 14th, crested at 19.06 feet on April 16th, and fell below flood stage on April 26th. Wabasha, MN went above flood stage on April 12th, crested at 16.40 feet on April 16th, and fell below flood stage on May 2nd. Winona, MN went above flood stage on April 13th, crested at 17.40 feet on April 18th, and fell below flood stage on April 30th. La Crosse, WI went above flood stage on April 14th, crested at 14.90 feet on April 19th, and fell below flood stage on April 28th. Lansing, IA went above flood stage on April 19th, crested at 17.62 feet on April 19th, and fell below flood stage on April 21st. McGregor, IA went above flood stage on April 14th, crested at 20.83 feet on April 22nd, and fell below flood stage on May 4th.

1952 (April to early May): 

Similar to the previous spring, the combination of a wet winter followed by a cold and wet March resulted in moderate to major spring flooding along the Upper Mississippi River during April and early May of 1952.

During the winter of 1951-52, Minnesota received an average precipitation of 3.29 inches (1.05 inches wetter than the 1901-2000 average) and Wisconsin received an average precipitation of 3.63 inches (0.13 inches wetter than the 1901-2000 average). The wet weather continued into March of 1952. Minnesota had an average precipitation of 1.52 inches (0.27 inches wetter than the 1901-2000 average) and Wisconsin had an average precipitation of 2.27 inches (0.47 inches wetter than the 1901-2000 average). In addition to the wet weather, March of 1952 was colder than average. Minnesota had an average temperature of 21.7 degrees (4.4 degrees colder than the 1901-2000 average) and Wisconsin had an average temperature of 25.7 degrees (3.2 degrees colder than the 1901-2000 average). These colder than average temperatures slowed the melting of the snow pack. Fortunately, April of 1952 was drier than average which helped lower the potential crests.

The flood crests at all locations were slightly greater than the previous spring. Lake City, MN went above flood stage on April 10th, crested at 19.17 feet on April 18th, and fell below flood stage on April 29th. Wabasha, MN went above flood stage on April 9th, crested at 16.71 feet on April 18th, and fell below flood stage on May 3rd. Winona, MN went above flood stage on April 11th, crested at 17.91 feet on April 18th, and fell below flood stage on May 4th. La Crosse, WI went above flood stage on April 12th, crested at 15.30 feet on April 20th, and fell below flood stage on May 1st. Lansing, IA went above flood stage on April 20th, crested at 18.14 feet on April 23rd, and fell below flood stage on April 26th. McGregor, IA went above flood stage on April 13th, crested at 20.89 feet on April 22nd, and fell below flood stage on May 4th.

Elsewhere snow melt and ice jams caused the highest observed discharge on the Root River at Houston (37,000 cfs) and inflicted substantial damage at Houston, Rushford and much of the lower basin from March into April.  The 1952 floods were caused by similar factors to the 1951 floods, with heavy snow in the Upper Mississippi basin combined with prolonged rainfall on the melting snow pack in late March and April.  Flood crests generally slightly exceeded those of April 1951.  For the third consecutive year the Cedar River in Austin flooded, cresting on March 31 at 15.82 feet, although damage was relatively light

1954 (early to mid May):

A slightly wetter than average 1953-54 winter followed by a wet March and April of 1954 across northwest and north central Wisconsin resulted in minor to moderate flooding along the upper portions of the Mississippi River during early and mid May of 1954.

During the winter of 1953-54, Minnesota received an average precipitation of 2.88 inches (0.64 inches wetter than the 1901-2000 average) and Wisconsin received an average precipitation of 3.63 inches (0.13 inches wetter than the 1901-2000 average). During March and April of 1954,Wisconsin received an average precipitation of 6.77 inches (2.32 inches wetter than the 1901-2000 averages). The greatest departures (3 to 5 inches wetter than normal) from average were found across northwest and north central Wisconsin. This excess precipitation greatly increased the flows along both the Chippewa and St. Croix rivers which feed the upper portions of the Mississippi River.

Wabasha, MN went above flood stage on May 2nd, crested at 15.22 feet on May 6th, and fell below flood stage on May 12th. La Crosse, WI went above flood stage on May 5th, crested at 14.30 feet on May 7th, and fell below flood stage on May 11th.

1967 (early to mid April):

A very wet winter resulted in minor to moderate spring flooding along the Upper Mississippi River. Minnesota had an average precipitation of 3.48 inches (1.24 inches above the 1901-2000 average - 5th wettest winter of the 20th century) and Wisconsin had an average precipitation of 5.32 inches (1.82 inches above the 1901-2000 average - 5th wettest winter of the 20th century).

Lake City, MN went above flood stage on April 3rd, crested at 17.40 feet on April 6th, and fell below flood stage on April 10th. Wabasha, MN went above flood stage on April 2nd, crested at 15.46 feet on April 5th, and fell below flood stage on April 14th. Winona, MN went above flood stage on April 3rd, crested at 16.92 feet on April 7th, and fell below flood stage on April 14th. La Crosse, WI went above flood stage on April 4th, crested at 14.60 feet on April 7th, and fell below flood stage on April 14th. Lansing, IA went above flood stage on April 8th, crested at 17.18 feet on April 9th, and fell below flood stage on April 10th. McGregor, IA went above flood stage on April 5th, crested at 20.71 feet on April 10th, and fell below flood stage on April 19th.

1969 (April to early May):

The second or third greatest snow melt flood of the past century affected much of the La Crosse Hydrologic Service Area (HSA) beginning in early April.  The meteorological setup for this event began with very wet October, dry November and then a wetter-than normal winter (December-February).  March precipitation was well below normal, however temperatures were also roughly 3 to 6 degrees below normal (very similar to March 2001).  This prevented substantial snow melt during March, especially over the northern parts of the upper Midwest. Snow w ater equivalent in the snow pack at the end of March was substantially less than in 1965, especially in the Mississippi headwaters, generally 2 to 4 inches.  April precipitation was well below (50%) to near normal across the HSA, but up to 150% of normal in the Mississippi headwaters.  In addition the first two weeks of April were mostly dry from about La Crosse northward, helping reduce the runoff.  Crests in 1969 were generally 1 to 4 feet lower than in 1965.  The Mississippi crested in the La Crosse HSA within a day or two of the same dates as the 2001 flood (April 16 at Wabasha and April 20 at La Crosse).  Crests were a little higher in 1969 than 2001 in the north (20.20 vs 20.13 feet at Lake City, MN) and one to two feet below 2001 further south. Tributary snow melt flooding, mostly during the first week in April was also widespread, but not severe. The seriousness of the flood potential was demonstrated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers building of a number of emergency levees in the Root River basin.

With the exception of McGregor, IA (which it was their third greatest crest), all other locations experienced their second highest crest of the twentieth century. Lake City, MN went above flood stage on April 11th, crested at 20.20 feet (1.98 feet lower than 1965) on April 17th, and fell below flood stage on April 27th. Wabasha, MN went above flood stage on April 10th, crested at 17.63 feet (2.62 feet lower than 1965) on April 16th, and fell below flood stage on May 2nd. Winona, MN went above flood stage on April 11th, crested at 19.44 feet (1.33 feet lower than 1965) on April 19th, and fell below flood stage on May 1st. La Crosse, WI went above flood stage on April 12th, crested at 15.70 feet (1.80 feet lower than 1965) on April 20th, and fell below flood stage on April 30th. Lansing, IA went above flood stage on April 19th, crested at 18.88 feet (3.62 feet lower than 1965) on April 22nd, and fell below flood stage on April 26th. McGregor, IA went above flood stage on April 14th, crested at 21.58 feet (3.90 feet less than 1965 and 0.40 feet less than 1969) on April 22nd, and fell below flood stage on May 3rd.

1975 (late April through mid May):

A wet winter followed by a wet March and April resulted in minor to moderate spring flooding of 1975. Minnesota had an average precipitation of 3.51 inches (1.27 inches above the 1901-2000 average - 4th wettest winter of the 20th century) and Wisconsin had an average precipitation of 4.13 inches (0.63 inches above the 1901-2000 average). The wet weather continued into March and April 1975. During these months, Minnesota had an average precipitation of 4.76 inches (1.45 inches above the 1901-2000 average) and Wisconsin had an average precipitation of 5.88 inches (1.43 inches above the 1971-2000 average). The above normal precipitation helped to enhance the flows on the Minnesota, St. Croix, and Chippewa rivers which feed into the upper portions of the Mississippi River.

Lake City, MN went above flood stage on April 26th, crested at 17.60 feet on May 1st, and fell below flood stage on May 9th. Winona, MN went above flood stage on April 26th, crested at 16.60 feet on May 2nd, and fell below flood stage on May 11th. La Crosse, WI went above flood stage on April 28th, crested at 14.50 feet on May 2nd, and fell below flood stage on May 10th. Lansing, IA went above flood stage on May 3rd, crested at 17.76 feet on May 4th, and fell below flood stage on May 5th. McGregor, IA went above flood stage on April 28th, crested at 21.12 feet on May 5th, and fell below flood stage on May 15th.

1986 (April):

During the autumn of 1985, precipitation was 4 to 6 inches above normal across much of Wisconsin. This led to very wet soils heading into the winter of 1985-86. Even though near normal precipitation fell across the region from December 1985 through March 1986, the wet soils could not take in the snow melt and this resulted in minor to moderate flooding along the upper portions of the Mississippi River.

Lake City, MN went above flood stage on April 3rd, crested at 17.17 feet on April 6th, and fell below flood stage on April 11th. Wabasha, MN went above flood stage on April 1st, crested at 15.20 feet on April 6th, and fell below flood stage on April 21st.

1993 (mid June to mid July):

After a wet spring, the above normal precipitation continued into June. This resulted in minor to moderate flooding along the Mississippi River from mid June through mid July.

During the spring of 1993, Minnesota received an average of 7.83 inches of precipitation (1.38 inches above the 1901-2000 average) and Wisconsin received an average of 8.03 inches of precipitation (2.38 inches above the 1901-2000 average - tenth wettest of the 20th century). The wet weather continued into June of 1993. Minnesota received an average of 5.99 inches (1.87 inches above the 1901-2000 average) and Wisconsin received 6.92 inches of precipitation (2.73 inches above the 1901-2000 average - 5th wettest of the 20th century).

Lake City, MN went above flood stage on June 23rd, crested at 17.45 feet on June 28th, and fell below flood stage on July 4th. Wabasha, MN went above flood stage on June 20th, crested at 15.30 feet on June 25th, and fell below flood stage on July 21st. Winona, MN went above flood stage on June 22nd, crested at 16.53 feet on June 26th, and fell below flood stage on July 20th. La Crosse, WI went above flood stage on June 21st, crested at 14.10 feet on June 26th, and fell below flood stage on July 18th. Lansing, IA went above flood stage on June 27th, crested at 18.46 feet on June 30th, and fell below flood stage on July 2nd. McGregor, IA went above flood stage on June 20th, crested at 15.30 feet on June 25th, and fell below flood stage on July 21st.

1997 (April): 

Snow melt from a near record snow pack the Upper Mississippi River basin affected primarily the mainstem river.  Flooding was far worse to the north and west of the La Crosse Hydrologic Service Area (HSA), especially along the Red River of the North and Minnesota River.  The runoff still produced some significant crests in the La Crosse HSA that are among the top five of all time at several locations including Wabasha, MN (5th - 16.53 feet); Winona, MN (4th - 18.27 feet); and McGregor, IA (5th - 21.38 feet).

Lake City, MN went above flood stage on April 5th, crested at 18.95 feet on April 11th, and fell below flood stage on April 21st. Wabasha, MN went above flood stage on April 3rd, crested at 16.53 feet on April 11th, and fell below flood stage on April 28th. Winona, MN went above flood stage on April 6th, crested at 18.27 feet on April 11th, and fell below flood stage on April 25th. La Crosse, WI went above flood stage on April 6th, crested at 15.01 feet on April 12th, and fell below flood stage on April 25th. Lansing, IA went above flood stage on April 13th, crested at 18.38 feet on April 15th, and fell below flood stage on April 18th. McGregor, IA went above flood stage on April 7th, crested at 21.38 feet on April 15th, and fell below flood stage on April 28th.

2001 (mid April to mid May): 

Flooding from snow melt and very heavy April rainfall (2nd wettest April in MN) produced the second or third highest crests along the Mississippi River through the La Crosse Hydrologic Service Area (HSA).  The crests occurred from April 16th through April 21st and in most locations only the 1965 and/or 1969 crests were higher.  With seasonal snowfall well above average, the months of February and March were both colder than normal allowing for very little snow melt entering April.  Extremely heavy April precipitation (both snow and rain), especially over the upper Mississippi River basin combined with the melting snow to produce the high crests along the mainstem river. In Minnesota, statewide April precipitation was the 2nd highest on record, with many locations including Rochester (7.09") and Minneapolis (6.89") having their wettest April ever.  The first major event precipitation occurred from April 6-7 and combined with the snow melt moving downstream.  Another major storm from April 21-23, which primarily affected areas north of the La Crosse HSA, helped to sustain the duration of the cresting Mississippi.  Despite the high levels, impacts were not nearly as severe as in 1965, primarily due to extensive levees along the river.  The worst impacts occurred in Wabasha, MN, Fountain City, WI and north of Guttenburg, IA where there was some residential flooding.  Nearly every tributary in the HSA also experienced some degree of flooding, although crests along these rivers were mostly in the minor to moderate category.

Lake City, MN went above flood stage on April 11th, crested at 20.13 feet on April 16th, and fell below flood stage on May 8th. Wabasha, MN went above flood stage on April 10th, crested at 18.22 feet on April 16th, and fell below flood stage on May 16th. Winona, MN went above flood stage on April 11th, crested at 20.07 feet on April 17th, and fell below flood stage on May 14th. La Crosse, WI went above flood stage on April 12th, crested at 16.41 feet on April 18th, and fell below flood stage on May 12th. Lansing, IA went above flood stage on April 16th, crested at 19.93 feet on April 21st, and fell below flood stage on May 7th. McGregor, IA went above flood stage on April 13th, crested at 23.75 feet on April 20th, and fell below flood stage on May 18th.

 


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