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March 21, 2010

Crash on the levee, mama
Posted by Patrick at 07:13 PM *

Aware of Making Light’s long interest in floods, disaster preparation, and the Twin Cities, correspondent Elise Matthesen writes to alert us of an interesting few days on the way:

Want to see a MEANINGFUL graphic, especially to those of us in Minneapolis and St. Paul right now? Flood Water Converging At St Paul. We’re at 16.06 feet. Flood level is 14. And there’s more water to come, when the Crow River, the Minnesota River, and the St. Croix all pass along their rising burdens to the Mississipi.

It’s not just St. Paul, of course, and not just the Mississipi by any means. The region including Minnesota, North Dakota, and Manitoba has a history of some pretty impressive floods. As you may remember, Bob, the Red River and the Missouri River conspired to have some rather major flood action in 1997; I refer to the time Grand Forks burned, fell over, and sank into the swamp—OK, not exactly, but close.

Yup, I said “Manitoba.” I live in a place where some rivers drain south to the Gulf of Mexico, and some drain north to Hudson’s Bay. We’ve got the Mississippi and its tributaries including the Minnesota and Missouri and the St. Croix, and we’ve got la Rivière rouge, or the Red River — which is often called the Red River of the North around here, to distinguish it from the Red River that flows into the Mississippi. (The MIssissipi is just called the Mississippi around here, even though there’s a Mississippi River in Ontario.) And check out this excellent story with historical info and context, which mentions the facts that In 2009, flood level stayed above the official flood stage for 61 days, and that the Red River has reached flood stage for 18 consecutive years.

Meanwhile, back in St. Paul, folks are planning for the next few days, when the crest will reach us. It sounds like St. Paul is about as ready as we can get, according to the Pioness Press. There are various road closings and re-routes. Various fans of upcoming events, including Black Eyed Peas fans, might get their feet wet, but probably only if they do it on purpose by walking over to check out the flood zone and dipping a toe into it.

If you want to check out the flood zone without being in range of getting your feet wet, here: have a look at the live St. Paul floodcam.

Stay dry, Mipple-stipplites!
Comments on Crash on the levee, mama:
#1 ::: Chris Johnson ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2010, 07:40 PM:

I grew up in Winona, MN, which is basically an island in the Mississippi downstream from the Twin Cities. We got all of the above, plus the flow of the St. Croix, Chippewa, and Minnesota rivers. Spring was often exciting.

#2 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2010, 07:54 PM:

For those curious about more detail as to why Grand Forks, Winnipeg, et al are so vulnerable to Red River flooding, I blame Glacial Lake Agassiz.

(Short form for the non-glacial-geography geeks: big ol' glacial lake had a big ol' lakebed, which is now a huge flat plain. The Red River therefore doesn't have the same kind of riverbanks that people from elsewhere think of when they think of rivers, but rather meanders across the old lakebed. It hasn't got a floodplain in the usual way, which can be bad enough; it's got a flood-vast-ancient-lakebed. Which is what the water and the land remember when the spring melts remind them.)

#3 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2010, 08:08 PM:

My goodness, Elise. To think I actually got taught about glacial lakes, with Lake Agassiz as the example, back in high school geography class, in 1969.

#4 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2010, 10:18 PM:

We're getting enough more wet here this year than previous years that I'm starting to worry about a '93 flood year.

For example, we got 8" of snow overnight Friday, heavy, wet snow. And apparently just 10-20 miles away (Lee's Summit, to our southeast) got 8" more yesterday on top of it.

ON the other hand, everyone I know except for one here lives on high ground. And that one lives in an area that was somewhat damaged in 1993, but the only people who had to give it up were folks who'd built on a slab. Her father had the presence of mind to put their house up on a foundation of sorts, and her house survived just fine, even though they had some tense moments.

Good luck and best wishes to those living up north!

#5 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2010, 10:24 PM:

Richmond, Indiana sits on the Whitewater Gorge, the runoff channel from the last glaciation. Short of another glaciation, we're safe from flooding.

We're also safe from tornadoes - no tornado has ever hit Richmond, Indiana, for reasons not fully understood, but presumed to have something to do with the Gorge.

So I'll be thinking of you all this spring, thankful that nothing short of the New Madrid letting loose again would harm my house. (But I shudder to think what all this ancient brick would do in the event of an earthquake....)

#6 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2010, 12:17 AM:

Michael-- I'm sorry, but the usual end state of a large brick house in an earthquake is lots of little bricks. Unreinforced masonry really sucks that way. Though, in Indiana, you're a good deal away from the worst of the shaking, IIRC you're zone 2 at the worst. Memphis would be much worse.

#7 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2010, 12:26 AM:

5 & 6
Or, as Frisbie said about St Louis, 'The world market for used brick is not that big.'

#8 ::: Ryan Viergutz ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2010, 01:45 AM:


Oh wow, I've heard about Lake Agassiz but have no idea where I did. I hadn't connected that to Minnesota floods, but that sounds like another seed for a Minnesota SF book.

#9 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2010, 04:41 AM:

Lake Agassiz is named after the great natural philosopher Louis Agassiz, famous for the scientific concept of the ice age, but wrong on evolution, and not seismically safe.

#10 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2010, 04:48 AM:

Ryan @#8: Or a seed for another MN fantasy book. OK, steampunk Upper Midwest fantasy. With Territorial Expositions and stuff.

(I better get some sleep and then I'd better get back to work on said item.)

#11 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2010, 04:52 AM:

It was at 16.06 feet when I wrote the thing Patrick quoted. That was this evening. It's four in the morning here now, and it's 17.19 feet at last report.

Flood stage is (was) 14 feet. Major stage is 17 feet. We're past that.

Check out the floodcam when the sun comes up and see how things look, eh?

#12 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2010, 05:01 AM:

Here, have some advanced hydrologic prediction service maps:

Grand Forks, Fargo, and other eastern ND/western MN places

Twin Cities and surrounding areas

And here, have a map for the whole U.S.

#13 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2010, 05:07 AM:

And OK, I'm a fairly haphazard weathergeek, not anywhere near as hardcore as various friends and acquaintances, so this map still gives me the first-moment-of-looking giggles with the big red arrows. Not that floods are funny, but sometimes maps are.

#14 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2010, 05:13 AM:

And here, last linkspam of the night:

The North Dakota Geological Survey has a lovely page on Lake Agassiz and why the land does what it does. Really quite nice, and it's got the story about Evan Nybakken and his hat and the postage stamp and all.

#15 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2010, 10:21 AM:

Looks like when PZ Meyers finally gets back home, he can do some aquatic biology outside the lab! :-)

#16 ::: NewGuyDave ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2010, 11:13 AM:

I grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba and was still living there for the '97 Flood of the Century. Luckily, they had built the Red River Floodway (RRF)around the city back in the 1960s (for $63M). It moves approx. 60,000 cubic feet of water per second and is over 29 miles long. Basically, a big trench around the city to prevent disasters like they had in in 1826 and 1950. They estimate the RRF has saved the city and province of Manitoba over $10 billion in damages since it was constructed.

#17 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2010, 02:15 PM:

The town to which we farm kids were bused to go to high school, where we went to church, bought clothes and cars and etc., where our grandparents retired after giving the farm to the oldest son, is situated on the source of the Red River, the whirlpool under the bridge between Wahpeton on the North Dakota side and Breckenridge on the Minnesota side.

The Souix tribe would drive the buffalo over the bluffs there, into the whirlpool, where they died. So much more convenient than running them down and killing the buffalo themselves to lay in the supply of winter meat and hides. Also the trees along the river there made it a very attractive and cool place to work on rendering the kills down to meat and hides.

It's flooding all right, again.

However the number of floods when I was growing up were far fewer than they are now. But Grand Forks always floods in the spring. Now Fargo is too, which happened far less often in the past.

Love, C.

#18 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2010, 06:14 PM:

eric @6 - I know. Eventually it will suck. I'm hoping antigravity will be practical before then; I'd like to move the house anyway. (It'd be ever so much nicer just offshore of Puerto Rico, or in Budapest in the summers.)

#19 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2010, 06:29 PM:

You know the volcano in Iceland?

It turns out that a bunch of students from my old school were on a geology field-trip in the area.

The local newspaper is quoting somebody as saying they were "petrified".

I wonder who might have come up with that,

Are earthquake survivors "shaken"? Does a flood leave yoiu feeling "wrung out"?

#20 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2010, 06:29 PM:

I had to use detours last seek to go south, the flooded usually low flow sinuous Shawsheen River had become a quarter mile mile and got national airtime. A TV reporter spent an afternoon last week standing in the water that normally is a dry roadbed. The river hit a record depth of water last week, and flooded out a number of homes, several businesses, etc. It crested the middle of last week... there is more rain coming down, with perhaps 3.5" of rain threatening.

#21 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2010, 06:33 PM:

Are earthquake survivors "shaken"?

I'd say so. (Certainly one can leave you shaking.)

#22 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2010, 10:29 AM:

Would an earthquake at Buckingham Palace leave the Royal Guard shaken but not stirred?

#23 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2010, 12:44 PM:

(n.b. for those who really want to see me move... there is a 10 minute clip of me speaking about interrogation. Youtube link)

#24 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2010, 12:46 PM:

Oops... wrong thread.

#25 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2010, 01:10 PM:

re 9: Smirk!

#26 ::: edward oleander ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 07:16 PM:

My parents loved to tell the tale of the '65 flood here in Minneapolis, when a stretch of local Interstate 35(W) (the stretch I drive over today to get to Elise's house) was sandbagged so high cars were driving completely under the level of the surrounding floodwaters. Since then, water has come within inches, but never again touched that roadway...

The only good thing about flood season is that it means storm chasing season is just weeks away!

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