Author, Damned to Eternity: The Story of the Man Who They Said Caused the Flood
I’m not a groundhog. I’m not a psychic, a soothsayer, or a fortuneteller (although at times, I do resemble that Zoltar creature from the movie Big). But I’m the guy who predicted these horrible Midwestern floods back in March. I spoke publicly about them, I blogged about them, and I put my wife to sleep with doomsday predictions that the summer of 2008 will resemble the summer of 1993. And history remembers the summer of 1993 as that of the 500-year flood.
Back then, the midsection of America looked more like Pangaea than industrialized society. More than a thousand levees broke up and down the Mississippi River and on adjoining tributaries. It was a horrible act of God for all affected by the floods, as well as a humbling all-for-naught experience on the part of the thousands of sandbaggers and volunteers. That is, it was a horrible act of God for every community except one: West Quincy, Missouri, pinned their levee’s failure on one man, who is serving a life sentence at the Missouri State Prison for intentionally causing a catastrophe.
The thing is, we should have seen the Great Midwestern Floods of 2008 coming. If 1993 taught us anything, it’s how to spot a potential deluge... That’s how I knew back in March that we were in trouble. Strangely, no media outlets went with the story. Just me, predicating into the ether, basing everything on my own research of soil and atmospheric science for the book, “Damned To Eternity.” Mostly, I know what I know because of the tutelage I received from Dr. R. David Hammer, a professor emeritus in the soil sciences department at the University of Missouri.
WHY IT’S HAPPENING
Several extenuating circumstances come into play:
Foremost, this past winter produced an inordinate amount of snow in the upper Midwest and pacific north rim. The snow mounted through a long, cold equinox. Then, an abrupt heat wave began to melt the pacts with rapid frequency. The water runoff started raising streams, lakes and tributaries. And as that happened, rainfall of unusual intensity and duration in specific spots began occurring—just like they did leading up to the 500-year flood of 1993.
Over the last 15 years, we seem to be having more intense storms more frequently. Some scientists and meteorologists predicted that the affects of climate change would be the catalyst for the increased frequency of storms in the Midwest. That situation is exacerbated by the fact that we’ve altered the entire native American landscape. There’s almost no natural vegetative buffer along river systems like there were in the days of yore. So when you have thunderstorms like the ones which have persisted on and off for the past month, there’s more water coming down and getting into the river systems, and it’s not getting into the ground like it used to.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN DONE?
First of all, everyone wants a house by a lake or a river. Aesthetically, that’s prime real estate. These new homes are springing up in places where over time, the landscape had evolved to handle this turbulent weather. So even though a knee-jerk reaction to dams bursting is to blame the Army Corps of Engineers, you shouldn’t. (Truth be told, you shouldn’t blame them for Katrina, either.) Most states do not have a comprehensive code of how urbanization should occur on a floodplain. Those decisions are left up to the municipalities. The people that do the designing and make the mistakes are not around when the rains come. It’s up to the homeowner. These lessons should have been learned a long time ago. But the mentality since 1993 has been: If that was the 500-year flood, I’ve got 485 years left. I’m safe, so I can build my home on the river.
WILL THE FLOODS GET WORSE AS THE SUMMER CONTINUES?
The short answer: yes. In 1993, the bulk of flooding happened from late June through mid-July. Today, sections of Iowa, Wisconsin and Indiana are already worse than they were in 1993, and it’s not even summer yet. We’re entering a scenario like the one 15 years ago, only worse.
People along the Mississippi River need to pay particular attention to the flood conditions in Iowa. Back in 1993, the Raccoon River, which empties into the Mississippi River, was the last big surge. The Mississippi was already at flood stage, and when the Raccoon River held, it emptied its high water contents into the Mississippi.
Fast forward to today: It’s an unfortunately display of schadenfreude, but the current flooding in Iowa is benefiting Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee because it shaves some volume out of the river. But if the current sandbagging efforts in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines and Davenport and Dubuque are successful, the river’s crest will move downstream. All the while, tremendous pressure will be butting up against the levee walls downriver. It’ll take another situation of excessively high rainfall for weeks to cause the levees to either overtop or to burst outright, but then again, the forecasts do call for rain.
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