From Nebraska to Wisconsin, many places are underwater as major flooding engulfs central US
While a historically snowy winter begins to wind down across parts of the Plains and Midwest, what threatens to be an equally historic spring flood season is now underway. From Nebraska to Wisconsin, and up and down rivers in the Plains and Midwest, more than 10 million people are under flood warnings into the weekend in the wake of this week's "bomb cyclone."
Some of the most significant flooding thus far has hit eastern Nebraska. "Widespread and extremely dangerous flooding will continue today and tonight," the National Weather Service office in Omaha wrote in an update Friday morning.
Since issuing that statement, the Weather Service itself had to evacuate due to a dike failure on the Platte River.
In northeast Nebraska, the city of Norfolk remains under a large-scale evacuation on its east side. Flooding there is due to rivers like the Elkhorn rising to near-record levels and breaching levees in some spots. Weather.com reported that one-third of the city of 24,000 was evacuated. Water in that location is now subsiding, but only after a portion of the city was submerged.
Columbus, at the meeting point of the Platte and Loup rivers in southeastern Nebraska, has also been particularly hard hit. A farmer there was swept away and killed while attempting to help rescue others from floodwaters on his tractor. Several others are missing in the region.
Major ice jams on both rivers near Columbus led to a flash flood emergency Thursday in the area. Officials were planning to place coal ash on the ice to help it melt and allow the rivers to recede once the natural and temporary dams were removed, but the jams broke up on their own before that plan was set into motion.
In recent days, as the "bomb cyclone" dispensed heavy rainfall, flooding focused on creeks and streams and small to intermediate-size rivers. Through the weekend, the most significant flooding is forecast to shift to the larger rivers in the region.
In the section of the Missouri River meandering through southeastern Nebraska to the Iowa border, the Cooper Nuclear Station declared a "notification of unusual event" early Friday morning, signaling that the river had surpassed a height which causes concern.
According to a news release, the Missouri River's level at the location of the nuclear power plant had climbed to 42.5 feet, or 899.05 feet above sea level. The plant itself sits 903 feet above sea level. The alert triggered initial precautions, and if the river reaches 45 feet the plant will be taken offline.
Forecasts from the Weather Service indicate that the water level at the plant may rise to about 45.5 feet this weekend, which would require a shutdown. Electricity then would be delivered from other sources. The plant operated throughout the last major threat, during historic flooding in summer 2011.
Flooding along this portion of the Missouri River has already neared or surpassed record levels. While additional rises are not expected to be massive, the river may not crest until Saturday or Sunday in this area.
Water levels on many of the major rivers are expected to stay near record highs into early next week before slowly subsiding.
Flooding is also common across Iowa, with numerous roads statewide closed. In central portions of the state, some homes have been evacuated near Otho, where some ice jams have also been reported.
Flooding is also common if somewhat less widespread in parts of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, and South Dakota in particular.
The Wisconsin towns of Lodi and Darlington have seen particularly impressive flooding. In Lodi, the mayor has said it's the worst he's ever seen in his 71 years. Darlington is in the midst of its third flood in a year, which is expected to be the worst since 1993 in that location.
The flooding has been caused by a combination of factors.
Heavy rain associated with the "bomb cyclone" that moved through in recent days was a big catalyst. It was exacerbated by a now-melting hefty winter snow pack left by record winter precipitation. Ice jam blockades on rivers and still-frozen ground, which maximizes runoff, are only making matters worse.
Given the abundant precipitation through winter, and an active spring storm track through the nation's mid-section, the events of this week likely mark just the beginning of a long flood season.
This article was written by Ian Livingston, a reporter for The Washington Post.