The GREAT MISSISSIPPI RIVER FLOOD Of 1993

 Remember?

  • 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 billion.
  • 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 flooded roadways.
  • 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 mary.lamm@noaa.gov 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.
 Why did it happen?
  •  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!
 So what did happen in our area?
  •  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.

Cape Girardeau hydrograph of 1993 flood

Thebes hydrograph of 1993 flood

New Madrid hydrograph of 1993 flood

Cairo hydrograph of 1993 flood

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.

Site

1993 Crest

Crest of Record

Cape Girardeau

48.49 feet *

August 8

45.55 feet

April 1973

Thebes

45.5 feet *

August 7

44.2 feet

April 1973

New Madrid

34.6 feet

August 3

48.0 feet

February 1937

Cairo (Ohio River)

46.0 feet

August 2

59.5 feet

February 1937

* 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.

Great Flood of 1993 crests vs. crests of record

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.

 


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