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.
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