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The Mississippi River is experiencing its second "500-year flood" since 1993. That's no freak occurrence - scientists say it's a result of man-made carbon pollution changing our climate.

"All extreme weather events are now subject to human influence," said Dr. Peter Gleick, a climate & water scientist and president of the Pacific Institute, at a Capitol Hill briefing on Monday organized by the American Meteorological Society. "We are loading the dice and painting higher numbers on them."

FloodForecasters expected the Mississippi River to top out in Memphis on Monday night just inches below the record level:

The Mississippi River, the largest U.S. river system, is forecast to crest today in Memphis, Tennessee, just below its 74-year-old record, as a bulge of water moves south toward the riverside refineries in Louisiana.

The river is forecast to reach 48 feet in Memphis at 7 p.m., compared with the old mark of 48.7 feet, according to a revised National Weather Service forecast. [...]

The Mississippi threatens 3,075 buildings, including 949 homes and 12 apartment complexes, in Tennessee’s Shelby County, which includes Memphis, the Memphis/Shelby County Emergency Management Agency said yesterday. Exxon Mobil Corp. shut its Memphis fuel terminal on April 29, Kevin Allexon, a company spokesman, said in an e-mail.

Flooding like the Mississippi River is seeing in 2011 used to be considered extremely unusual. But thanks to the climate crisis, floods are becoming more frequent and more severe over much of the Mississippi River basin - so much so that the old way of measuring things is tragically outdated:
Problems with the [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] probabilities are exemplified by recent flooding at Hannibal, Missouri. The record stage set in 1993 exceeded the calculated 500-year level, whereas 2008 was a 200-year event. In addition, 2001 suffered a 50- to 100-year flood, 1986 and 1996 experienced 25- to 50-year floods, and five more years had 10-to 25-year floods. Are these calculated recurrence intervals reasonable, or is it more likely that the dice, in effect, are loaded?
Dr. Gleick told the AMS briefing that increasing temperatures aren't necessarily leading to more frequent rainfall events. But the climate crisis IS leading to more intense rainfall events. We're seeing the same number of storms, but the ones we do see are more likely to be the kind that cause severe flooding.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, that's pushing our flood control system to the breaking point:

The heavy strains on the system and concerns that floods are getting more frequent and damaging are sparking a re-examination of flood control. In years past, the call likely would have gone out for higher levees and more so-called gray infrastructure—concrete and cement structures to keep the Mississippi inside its banks. Now some flood experts, along with some states, are saying that trying to control the river won't do the job.
What can we do instead? Take advantage of ecosystems that absorb water instead of deflecting it downstream:
A study by the state of Illinois found that fully exploiting the water-absorption capacity of one such tract near Peoria would reduce flooding in the city by a few inches and affect flood levels as many as 80 miles downstream, [the Nature Conservancy's Michael] Reuter said.
Right now, Congress hasn't shown a willingness to change our policies to reflect our losing battle with nature. Congress still hasn't acted to restore coastal Louisiana wetlands, a critical buffer against global warming-fueled hurricanes. And misguided budget cutters have even gone so far as to slash funding for weather forecasting satellites - replacements for the aging satellites that saved lives by predicting this year's Mississippi River floods.

Cross-posted from NWF's Wildlife Promise

Originally posted to Target Global Warming on Tue May 10, 2011 at 08:44 AM PDT.

Also republished by Three Star Kossacks.

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Comment Preferences

  •  You know, this could be the BIGGEST flood (9+ / 0-)

    on the record, not second biggest, when you consider that 74 years ago we didn't have a large system of upstream reservoirs and dams that today are used for flood control. In the absence of these measures, I think it would be reasonable to assume that this flood could very well beat the record.

    Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!

    by bigtimecynic on Tue May 10, 2011 at 08:54:40 AM PDT

  •  Looks like (7+ / 0-)

    the river has made a decision to create a lot of new wetlands.

    •  Unfortunately, governments react to this (5+ / 0-)

      kind of disaster with levies, dams, drainage systems, and paved rivers: exactly the opposite of what would improve the human habitat and ecosystem.
      Or they'll just claim that everybody just flushed their toilets at the same time. No worries.

      "I almost died for the international monetary system; what the hell is that?" ~ The In-laws

      by Andhakari on Tue May 10, 2011 at 10:27:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Government will react? (0+ / 0-)

        Why would it bother? You're acting like climate change is real, and we can expect this monumental event again. /snark

        I hate to sound cavalier, but until the residents of these hardest-hit states actually understand that climate change is real and is destroying their lives, they aren't going to demand a different governmental approach. As long as they keep sending representatives to Congress who oppose every single change to our current energy policy, there isn't much that can be done on the Federal level anyway.

        Besides, I don't think regional and national flood control is mentioned in  the Constitution, do you? It's a state issue! /moresnark

        Democracy *means* Anti-Plutocracy. Democrats, be true to your Self and win!

        by Louise on Tue May 10, 2011 at 05:20:28 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Great diary. Tipped and Rec'd. (9+ / 0-)

    I spend a lot of time in the Missouri River bottoms just west of the confluence.  Duckhunters are also pretty attuned to flooding in the areas where they hunt.  Over the last ten years I have seen a big increase in all flooding events, "minor" flooding especially.  I think much of the minor flooding is due to development on the surrounding high ground.  Still, it is hard to deny that climate change isn't playing a role.

    The intervals between larger floods on the Missouri are also decreasing.  Floods are becoming larger by area (which is what the 10, 20, 40, 100 and 500 flood event predictions measure) and, more dramatically by volume.

    The Great Rivers Habitat Alliance did a study on the frequency of flooding on the Missouri River.  It proposes that the 93 flood's once in 500 years prediction should, now, be more like once in 72 years.  The study also places a lot of blame on development but I think climate change deserves some serious recognition too.

    My family also has ground in Des Arc, Ar, on Bayou Des Arc.  In 1993 our cabin was high and dry.  It is on an old, elevated railroad bed that went to a bridge across the bayou.  The Black and Cache rivers are flooding into the bayous.  There is 6ft of water inside the cabin right now.

    I have to say that if you're a ducklhunter you've  the apparent changes in the migration over the last ten years.  Pssst.  This also due to climate change.

    I'll need some room for this...

    by duckhunter on Tue May 10, 2011 at 09:40:28 AM PDT

  •  Wetlands are one of the keys (8+ / 0-)

    to a healthy ecology, but I'm sorry to say climate change is going to flood all the coastal marshes. And the real kicker is that the people who own the land behind them are going to erect rip-rap and other barriers to keep the water out - and the governments will let them do it for the votes and bribes. No more coastal marshes.
    And that means an end to shrimp and oysters and fry.
    And that means an end to coastal fisheries.
    Hey, I read the other day that climate change deniers are exited about the opening of Greenland to agriculture. That should compensate for the damage.

    "I almost died for the international monetary system; what the hell is that?" ~ The In-laws

    by Andhakari on Tue May 10, 2011 at 10:21:34 AM PDT

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