Record-breaking Midwest floods keep DOTs scrambling; NOAA predicts much more water coming

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Updated Mar 26, 2019
Flood damage in Nebraska on Highway 281 Bridge. Credit: Office of the GovernorFlood damage in Nebraska on Highway 281 Bridge. Credit: Office of the Governor

Record-breaking flooding across the Midwest has left departments of transportation scrambling to reopen roads and prepare for major repairs after the water recedes.

At one point, the Nebraska DOT reported about 1,500 road miles were closed. As of March 20, that number was down to 375 miles.

The DOT also reported March 20 that at least 15 bridges on its state highway system have washed out or been damaged. Many of those bridges could take months to repair.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts has estimated damages to roads, levees and other structures at $450 million and total damage at more than $1.3 billion, according to USA Today. He has called the flooding the worst in state history.

The Missouri DOT was also battling widespread flooding in the northwestern section of the state. On March 22, I-29 was closed at mile marker 57 at St. Joseph to the Iowa border, and U.S. 61 between Alexandria, Missouri, and Keokuk, Iowa, was closed due to flooding.

MoDOT also reported three Missouri River crossings were closed, at Atchinson, Kansas, and Rulo and Brownville, Nebraska.

Flooding on I-29 at the Missouri-Iowa line. Credit: Missouri DOTFlooding on I-29 at the Missouri-Iowa line. Credit: Missouri DOT

In Kansas, Gov. Laura Kelly signed an executive order to waive fees and ease regulations for motor carriers assisting with bringing relief supplies to flooded areas. The Kansas DOT was moving 100 tons of sand March 21 for flood response in Doniphan. It also had vans on standby to help evacuations.

The Iowa DOT planned to begin assessing the damage to I-29 on March 22, and DOT crews were working overtime, reports the Des Moines Register.

But as flooding was receding in some areas, other locations were planning for more flooding over the weekend downstream of the Missouri River flooding, reports USA Today, and the Mississippi River is also rising, expected to reach flood stage in St. Paul, Minnesota, by the end of March. Twelve levees along the Missouri River have failed as of March 22, reports CBS News.

The flooding is the result of heavy rains and rapidly melting snow, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

NOAA also predicts the conditions – and a forecast of above-average precipitation this spring – have led to an elevated risk of major to moderate flooding in 25 states from now through May. That also means deluged areas could experience longer periods of flooding.

“The extensive flooding we’ve seen in the past two weeks will continue through May and become more dire and may be exacerbated in the coming weeks as the water flows downstream,” said Ed Clark, director of NOAA’s National Water Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. “This is shaping up to be a potentially unprecedented flood season, with more than 200 million people at risk for flooding in their communities.”

This NOAA map depicts the locations where there is a greater than 50 percent chance of major, moderate or minor flooding during March through May.This NOAA map depicts the locations where there is a greater than 50 percent chance of major, moderate or minor flooding during March through May.