2011 was the year of the billion-dollar disaster, recording more damage in 12 months than for the entire decade that made up the 1980s. One of those billion-dollar disasters was the Great Flood of 2011, which saw the Missouri River swell to historic heights, stretching far beyond its banks, flooding homes and businesses and changing the local landscape permanently.
In a Siouxland News Special Presentation, the First Look Weather Team is taking a look back on the flood of 2011 and how the tri-state region rebuilt after that devastating summer.
WHAT LED TO THE FLOOD
Before we talk about the flood itself, we need to dive into what led to it.
Believe it or not, the stage was set in the summer before, in 2010, with 20 inches of rainfall in Siouxland. That winter also brought above-normal precipitation. Further north, more water was headed into a river system that was already flooding downstream.
"We were just starting to see the snowmelt in the northern Rockies. They had been sitting at 120-130% of normal snowpack heading into late May," said Michael Gillispe, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service. "Just about the time that snowpack started to melt off, basically the eastern half of Montana and the Plains saw about a year's worth of precipitation in three weeks."
"And all of that water over that large area was coming into the Missouri River system at the same time that the snowmelt was coming off of the northern Rockies. So, that's when things started to get crazy," said Gillispe.
All of that water had to go somewhere.
Unfortunately, the six major dams and reservoirs along the Missouri River between Montana and Siouxland were at 100% capacity. To compensate for the excess water, the Army Corps of Engineers had a decision to make. And On May 29th, 2011, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sent out a warning that caught nearly everyone off guard.
RECORD WATER ON THE MISSOURI
That is how many of the residents in Siouxland described that summer. Communities up and down the Missouri saw record amounts of water inundate everything in its path.
"The first thing is, we identified where we thought the flooding would take or would be and how long would it take to get there, how long it would last, of course, how long it would last, we didn't know it was gonna last that long," said John Remus, a water resources engineer with the USACE.
To read and learn more about the record water the Missouri saw that summer, check out this story.
Warnings of impending high water echoed through communities throughout Siouxland on Memorial Weekend 2011, leaving very little time to spare for those along the water, leaving them scrambling to get what they could out of their homes and businesses and create sandbag berms around their properties.
Gary Brown has been the Director of Woodbury County Emergency Services for decades, responding to disasters like the crash of United Flight 232 in 1989. But the flood of 2011 may have been his most unpredictable yet. Watch his sit-down with Chief Meteorologist Cat Taylor here.
Meteorologist Vivian Rennie spoke to some of those in Siouxland about their experience in 2011. You can find her interviews with them here.
The Missouri River reached historic levels that summer and there are still places throughout Siouxland where remnants of that summer exist. Chief Meteorologist Cat Taylor visited some of those places, to show us what has changed over the last 10 years. You can watch her story below or click here to view it on YouTube.
The 185th Air Refueling Wing and other National Guard troops were deployed in the tri-state to not only help with flood mitigation efforts, but to monitor levees and track the rising waters from the skies. Military helicopters were brought into Siouxland to assist.
Siouxland News Reporter Katie Copple spoke to two members of the 185th ARW who were there that year. You can see her story here.
Siouxland News at Sunrise Anchor Jacob Heller was a reporter at KMEG 14 in 2011.
Now, he takes a look back at the flood of 2011, through his camera lens from a decade ago.
The floodwaters on the Missouri peaked on July 21st that year, but took months to fully recede.
"They had to slowly let that water out upstream," said David Pearson, a senior service hydrologist, National Weather Service. "They have to kind of pace it out as time goes on, so it took several months."
Once the water finally returned to its banks, it was time for the next challenge - the clean-up.
Meteorologist Vivian Rennie spoke to several residents and businesses about the clean-up and what that all entailed. You can watch her story here.
10 YEARS LATER
While the Missouri River has reached flood level several times since 2011, none have come close to reaching the level of destruction as it did 10 years ago.
Meteorologist Vivian Rennie spoke to several residents whose homes and businesses were hit hard that summer. You can see her story here.
The Missouri River has quite the history, acting as a jumping-off point for many trails that opened up the American West, including the Oregon Trail and Pony Express.
Now, a 100-mile national park, called the Missouri National Recreational River, runs between the Gavins Point Dam and Ponca State Park and remains the last significant stretch of free-flowing river.
SEE THE VIDEO
In March of 2020, the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, arrived in the tri-state region. Now one year later, we look back on the impact this virus has had on Siouxland.
A GLOBAL TIMELINE:
On December 31st, 2019, the World Health Organization received the first report of a viral pneumonia in Wuhan, China. Just 9 days later, an outbreak of a novel coronavirus, COVID-19 was confirmed. The first death of this new virus was reported on January 11th and just 20 days after WHO first learned of the virus, it appeared in the U.S. By February 3rd, the U.S. had declared a public health emergency and by March 11th, the WHO had declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.
President Trump declared a national emergency two days later. On April 4th, 1 million cases were confirmed worldwide. Come the end of May, the United States had documented 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 and reached 2 million confirmed cases by June 10th. On August 17th, COVID-19 had become the 3rd leading cause of death in the nation. September 28th brought a grim global milestone: 1 million lives lost. The world reached 40 million confirmed cases by October 19th and by mid-December, the FDA had approved the first two vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna.
On January 1st, 2021, the country reached 20 million confirmed cases. By the 10th of January, 90 million confirmed worldwide. Just 5 days later, 2 million people were dead. By March, millions had been vaccinated and a third vaccine option, Johnson & Johnson, was approved for use: one year after COVID-19 was declared a national emergency.
Here in the tri-state, we've seen more than 652,000 people test positive for COVID-19 in the last year.
Nebraska was one of the first states in the nation to house people in quarantine for COVID-19 following a cruise ship outbreak. More than a dozen people were brought to Nebraska Medicine in Omaha on February 17th to spend two weeks in quarantine after an outbreak on the Diamond Princess. A handful had tested positive and receive treatment at the hospital. It wouldn't be until March 6th that the first confirmed case specifically in Nebraska was reported. Here in Siouxland, Dakota and Madison County saw major outbreaks of COVID-19 after the virus spread through meatpacking plants in Dakota City and Norfolk.
It was a Sunday night, March 15th, when Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds made an announcement no other governor of the state has ever made before, closing schools across the state for four weeks. Classes would never resume for in-person learning for the 2019-2020 school year. March 17th, Gov. Reynolds closed gyms, fitness centers, theaters, casinos, bars, restaurants and many other businesses in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus in the state. The state reached a grim milestone on August 19th, with 1,000 Iowans dead from COVID-19.
South Dakota was one of the first to report a major outbreak of COVID-19, putting the Rushmore state under a national spotlight. The state reported its first cases and first death linked to the virus on March 10th, and just a month later, an outbreak was confirmed at the Smithfield Foods pork plant in Sioux Falls. This outbreak was one of the first to hit meatpackers last spring. The plant shut down on April 11th and the CDC was brought in to investigate its mitigation measures before the plant could reopen. Governor Kristi Noem would host President Donald Trump for a July 4th celebration at Mount Rushmore and then in August, tens of thousands of people flocked to Sturgis for the annual motorcycle rally. Throughout the pandemic, Governor Noem encouraged civic responsibility instead of stay at home and mask orders, urging South Dakotans to use personal responsibility to help slow the spread of the virus. By December 2020, Avera Health, a major health system in the state, reported that South Dakota had the highest mortality rate from COVID-19 in the nation.
COVID-19 vaccine phase updates in the tri-state
RETURN TO LEARN:
Many schools in the Siouxland area released "Return to Learn" plans ahead of the 2020-2021 school year. These included various learning scenarios for students and teachers in case of a virus outbreak in the district or community. Siouxland News spoke to many of these districts ahead of the new school year, which you can find those stories here.
The Sioux City Community School District had three learning plans: in-person, hybrid and online. The district was one of the few large districts in the state of Iowa to remain in-person this school year. Siouxland News Anchor Diana Castillo sat down for an exclusive interview with Superintendent Dr. Paul Gausman to look back on the last year, the success of the Return to Learn plan, and what he'd do differently if he had the chance. Watch the full interview below or click here.
SIOUXLAND DISTRICT HEALTH:
They've become a household name over the last year. The team at the Siouxland District Health Department had to quickly adjust to ever-changing protocols from health officials and questions from the public. Our Vivian Rennie sat down with Director Kevin Grieme and Deputy Director Tyler Brock for an in-depth discussion on a year they won't soon forget. Watch the full interview below or click here.
A YEAR FIGHTING COVID-19 INSIDE UNITYPOINT HEALTH-ST. LUKE'S
This virus has changed a lot of lives, but for those who work at Unity Point Health Saint Luke's, they came face to face with an enemy no one could predict.
READ MORE: Vivian Rennie spoke with health officials and nurses at UPH about the last year and COVID-19.
LOCAL BUSINESS IMPACT:
Businesses across the country, Siouxland included, are no stranger to the negative impact of the pandemic. It's been tough and those businesses made a lot of sacrifices in the last year. But, they've also seen growth and development that wouldn't have emerged otherwise.
READ MORE: COVID-19's impact on the local economy
READ MORE: Sneaky's Chicken says they are struggling but surviving the pandemic
READ MORE: A look at how the pandemic has impacted a Siouxland tire and auto repair shop
READ MORE: Tyson Events Center gets creative during the pandemic
SPORTS IMPACT:After the coronavirus canceled spring sports all across the tri-state, Iowa was the first to attempt high school sports over the summer and for the most part, it went off without a hitch. But people were more skeptical about the fall, a time where close contact sports were inevitable. Our Andrew Rogers breaks down the numbers from Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota to find out how much the virus played a role in sports cancellations. Read his story here and watch the video below.
They are a key element in our nation's food supply and became one of the hardest-hit industries early on. COVID-19 outbreaks spread quickly through meatpacking plants nationwide. In the Spring of 2020 meatpacking plants across the midwest became the first hotspots for COVID-19 in the country.
SMITHFIELD - Sioux Falls
Web articles from my time at Siouxland News.