Missouri River Flooding 2011: Climate Sets the Stage
Videos, Wed, Nov 23rd, 2011
This spring, the Northern Great Plains experienced record snowmelt and record rains. Flooding swept away crops, soil, homes, and more throughout the Missouri River Basin. A La Niña climate pattern helped set the stage for this event.
This spring the Northern Great Plains experienced record snow-melt and record rains. As a result, flooding swept away crops, soil, homes, and more along floodplains throughout the Missouri River Basin. What was happening in the climate system to set up this extreme event?
Deke Arndt, Chief, Climate Monitoring Branch, National Climatic Data Center: We spent much of this winter and spring in La Niña conditions, and that tends to push storminess a little further out into the Western Pacific. That releases a lot of energy, and that energy can disturb the Jet Stream. The jet stream is just a big river of air, and, like any river, if you disturb that upstream it’s going to have consequences downstream. With La Niña, for the United States anyway, what that often means is the Jet Stream is displaced a little farther north than the average position. What that meant this May was that the organized storm systems occurred in the Northern Plains much more often than they typically do. This brought a colossal amount of rain over a huge footprint of area.
Deke on Camera: All of this rain has to go somewhere and it made its way into the rivers and streams in the Missouri River system and what that lead to was historic rainfall totals. Add that on top of record snowmelt in the Northern Rockies and you’re going to end up with exactly what we saw: flooding in Omaha; flooding in the Dakotas; flooding along the entire tributary system of the Missouri River. It may have got that initial nudge from La Niña, far away in the Pacific Ocean. We call those “teleconnections”, and they influence our weather and seasons more than we might think. When you’re dealing with a river of air like the Jet Stream, influences upstream can have consequences downstream, and that may be what we saw this spring. We may have seen La Niña’s influence on the outcomes of the flooding in the Northern Plains. For ClimateCast, I’m Deke Arndt.
For additional information on flooding in the Missouri River, see the article on how the Missouri River Flood Drama Likely Took Direction from La Niña.
Spring 2013 has brought something fairly unusual in recent years—colder-than-average temperature for the nation as a whole. NOAA’s Deke Arndt talks about how spring temperatures in three U.S. climate divisions compare to the local long-term trend.
During late winter, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas received sorely needed rain which helped reduce short-term impacts, like wildfire and dry topsoil. But it has taken months to develop deep and severe drought in the region, and a few wet weeks won’t erase that situation. It can take months of ideal conditions to bring soil, rivers, and vegetation back to health.
On any given day or any given month, somebody somewhere experiences colder-than-average temperature, even though the globe as a whole is warmer than average. We know this through climate monitoring, which entails measuring temperature on land and across the ocean.