It’s already clear that the Floods of 2019 will collectively amount to one of the worst natural disasters ever faced by midwestern farmers and residents. The 12-month period from May 2018 through May 2019 ranks as the single wettest year-long period ever in records dating back to 1895, according to a monthly U.S. climate summary issued May 8 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information.
The Mississippi River Flood of 2011 is reckoned to have caused about $2.8 billion worth of economic damage. It’s already certain that damage from the 2019 floods will far surpass that figure. Missouri River flooding alone has cost billions in agricultural damage, as well as taken lives.
The length of this year’s Mississippi River flooding rivals that of the Great Flood of 1927 in many locations. Parts of the river have remained above flood stage for three months or more. On May 14, more than 260 river gauges were still reporting levels above flood stage.
In the Quad Cities, a four-city region in Illinois and Iowa, the Mississippi River stayed above major flood stage for the longest stretch on record, 51 consecutive days from March 23 through May 12. The previous record was 31 days from mid-April to mid-May 2001, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).
In St. Louis, the river was still 8 feet above flood stage but was falling as the WJ went to press May 16; the Coast Guard reopened St. Louis Harbor May 15.
In Vicksburg, Miss., the Mississippi went above flood stage on February 17 and has remained above it ever since. The NWS said it has been the longest continuous length of time above flood stage at Vicksburg since 1927. The same is true at Baton Rouge and the Red River Landing.
According to weather.com, much of the lower Ohio and Lower Mississippi valleys have picked up more than 2 feet of rain since the start of the year. Some spots in northern Mississippi and southeastern Arkansas have been soaked with more than 40 inches of rain.
The rains and floods have delayed plantings all over the Midwest. Millions of bushels of stored crops have been damaged. Fertilizer shipments, a great portion of which normally move by barge, have been jammed all along the transport system, leading to price increase and shortages. It’s not surprising that, according to the May 16 Wall Street Journal, U.S. farmers are filing for bankruptcy at levels not seen for 10 years.
The story of the Floods of 2019 is not over yet. At press time, the National Weather Service was forecasting another round of severe thunderstorms in the Upper Midwest.