The GREAT MISSISSIPPI RIVER FLOOD Of 1993
Why did it happen?
- The Great Flood of 1993 was unprecedented in magnitude, extent, and
impact. This year marks the 10 year anniversary of possibly the most costly
and devastating flood to impact the United States. By the time the flooding
finally subsided in October, the Great Flood had inundated 20 million acres
in nine states, damaged or destroyed approximately 50,000 homes, and forced
around 54,000 people to be evacuated at some time during the event. The
economic impact was staggering. The total cost of the flood was around $20
- Transportation was severely impacted. Barge traffic was halted on the
Missouri and Mississippi Rivers for nearly two months. Railroad traffic came
to a standstill in the Midwest. Ten commercial airports were flooded. Truck
traffic either stopped or had to be rerouted due to closed bridges and
- Affected locks, dams and levees had to be inspected and/or repaired after
the flood. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported that 40 of 229 federal
levees and 1,043 of 1,347 non-federal levees were overtopped or damaged
during the flood. (As noted in the NOAA, Natural Disaster Survey Report.)
- The Weather Service Office in Paducah had not yet been spun up to a
full-service Weather Forecast Office as part of the National Weather Service
Modernization. As such, hydrologic responsibility during the Great Flood
remained at the state Weather Service Forecast Offices located for Missouri
in St. Louis and for Illinois in Chicago.
- Got photos? We are looking for any photos of the Great Flood of '93 that
you might be willing to share with us. Please send them via E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
or via the postal service to: Attn- Mary Lamm, National Weather Service, 8250 Highway 3520,
West Paducah, KY, 42086. We will try to return any photos sent by mail.
Please send only photos taken in our area, from Thebes to New Madrid.
We will post them here for all to see.
So what did happen in our area?
- There were many factors that set the stage for the summer flooding.
The fall of 1992 was a wet one, saturating soils and raising stream levels.
The winter that followed left a normal to above normal snowpack in the
central United States. Heavy rainfall in late March, on top of a melting
snowpack, fed the headwaters of the Mississippi River. At this same time,
the northern reaches of the Missouri River were becoming saturated.
- The final factor that led to the record flooding was an unusually
persistent weather pattern from June into early August. The Bermuda High (an
area of high pressure that sets up off the southeast coast of the United
States and helps to steer weather systems across the eastern half of our
country) was stronger and further north and west than usual. This prevented
storms from following a more normal track across the Ohio Valley. Instead,
storm systems regenerated in the Central Plains following a northeast track
toward the Great Lakes. Record amounts of rainfall fell across the nine
states of the Northern and Central Plains. Some locations recorded over 4
feet of rain!
- During the Great Flood of 1993, flooding occurred at approximately
500 Weather Service forecast points, and record flooding occurred at 93
forecast points across the nine-state region. Many locations were above
flood stage for three to five months straight! The Mississippi River at Cape
Girardeau was above its 32 foot flood stage for 126 days.
- In our region, flooding occurred mainly on the Mississippi River.
Water from the Mississippi River backed into the Big Muddy and Ohio Rivers
causing Murphysboro and Cairo to rise above flood stage. Below are graphs
plotting the daily 8 am stage from May 1 through August 31.
New record stages were reached at Cape Girardeau, Missouri and Thebes, Illinois.
Below is a table and a graph comparing the crests reached in 1993 compared with
the record crests at the time.
Crest of Record
48.49 feet *
45.5 feet *
Cairo (Ohio River)
* Denotes new Flood of Record
Damage occurred along the Mississippi River on both the Missouri and Illinois
sides. In Perry County, Missouri, a break in the southern portion of the levee
surrounding the Bois Brule Bottoms broke, and water behind the levee flooded the
approach to the Chester Bridge. This closed the bridge for over a month. In Cape
Girardeau, Scott, Mississippi, and New Madrid Counties, nearly 100,000 acres of
rich farmland flooded with a loss of around $22 million. Many unprotected houses
and towns along both sides of the river flooded. In Illinois, around 2,400
people were evacuated in Jackson, Union, and Alexander Counties.
Where can I read more?
In the past 10 years, the National Weather Service has made many improvements
in the science of river
forecasting, as well, as our warning and dissemination
services. Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service (AHPS) will take hydrologic
modernization even further. The beginning phases of AHPS are now available on
WFO Paducah’s website at /pah.
In the left margin, under ‘Rivers/Hydrology’, select ‘River Info/AHPS’.
For more information, visit the National and
Regional flood accounts for The
Great Flood of 1993.