High Water in the Mississippi River Valley

Published May 2, 2019

High Water in the Mississippi River Valley

VICKSBURG, Miss. – Protecting people, infrastructure, commerce, agriculture and energy are always at the forefront of what we do at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mississippi Valley Division (MVD).

National Weather Service (NWS) analyses show a high pressure area located near the Southeast coast of the United States and a large trough out west.

“This is the same pattern seen in most of the significant flooding events in the Mississippi Valley over the past 120 years, including the high water experienced earlier this year,” said Bill Frederick, senior NWS meteorologist and NWS liaison at the Mississippi Valley Division.

NWS model guidance suggests this pattern will continue through at least the middle of May and will produce areas of very heavy rains across the Mississippi watershed. Currently, models show the heaviest rains falling over the Arkansas/Red/White/lower Missouri/middle Mississippi/Illinois valleys.

“The division’s number one priority is to protect the people within the Mississippi River valley,” said Maj. Gen. Richard Kaiser, commander of the Mississippi Valley Division. “Pro-active communication is key to being prepared and ready. Right now, our goal is to make communities aware of the possibility that river stages may be on the rise again, soon.”

As of April 30, NWS 16-day guidance shows significant rises in the Mississippi River at Hermann, Missouri, and St. Louis, Missouri, as a result of heavy rainfall occurring April 30 through May 2. The same 16-day guidance has the gage at Cairo, Illinois (the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers), rising above major flood stage; however, that figure could be higher if the axis of heaviest rains shifts southward. The week of May 5 has the potential to be another wet week over the same areas affected this week.

"If model guidance is correct, we could be dealing with significant flooding across a large portion of the Mississippi watershed during the month of May," said Frederick.

When high-water conditions warrant, MVD maintains daily contact with its sister divisions, the Great Lakes & Ohio River Division (LRD), the Southwestern Division (SWD), and the Northwestern Division (NWD), as well as USACE headquarters. LRD manages the Ohio River system, including the capability of Barkley Lake on the Cumberland River and the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kentucky Lake on the Tennessee River, to ease the flood crest in the Cairo area. SWD monitors the river stages on several rivers that flow into the Mississippi River while NWD monitors the Missouri River that joins the Mississippi just above St. Louis.

“The amount of coordination and communication with other federal and state agencies, our sister Corps’ divisions, and with local communities, is an integral part of our ability to help keep communities safe and to safely pass the high water,” said Kaiser.

Mississippi Valley Division’s Watershed Division is responsible for providing day-to-day oversight and coordination of the Mississippi River’s flow and watershed. Hydrologists and hydraulic engineers from MVD’s six districts, St. Paul, Rock Island, St. Louis, Memphis, Vicksburg and New Orleans, keep track of river stages in real-time using satellite links to gages. In addition, they coordinate closely with multiple organizations, including the National Weather Service’s official forecast, to provide a picture of current and expected river conditions.

The Mississippi River & Tributaries (MR&T) project, the comprehensive flood control project on the lower Mississippi River, has provided unprecedented protection during four severe floods in the past decade. Flood control is necessary to achieve energy, economic, food and job security. The MR&T has prevented more than $1.27 trillion in flood damages since 1928, or $80 for every one dollar invested.

The MR&T project consists of five major features: a levee system that includes 3,787 miles of levees and floodwalls; four floodways, including Bonnet Carré, Morganza, Birds Point-New Madrid and the Atchafalaya; channel improvement and stabilization; reservoirs; and tributary basin improvements.

The Mississippi River drainage basin is the world’s third largest watershed and is home to the largest inland waterway navigation system with more than 12,000 miles of commercially navigable channels.

You can find more information on current precipitation trends at https://www.mvd.usace.army.mil/Portals/52/docs/Precipitation%20Trends.pdf



Mississippi Valley Division Public Affairs

Release no. 19-005