Historic Flooding Devastates the Midwest
- by Maggie Mead
IOWA AND NEBRASKA - “It looked like an ocean,” said Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds when she toured western Iowa this week, according to USA Today, and the images coming out of the Midwest states certainly paint a grim picture. Triggered by the “bomb cyclone” that hit the region last week, rivers rose to historic levels and eventually overflowed from the onslaught of rain and rapidly melting snow. The flooding has been so severe that it has cut off railway access to the region, and left many residents of the area stranded.
According to CNN, a state of emergency has been declared in Iowa, Nebraska, and even Wisconsin, as flood records were surpassed in 17 places across Nebraska alone. Aside from the threat to the population of the affected areas, the flooding has had devastating effects on farming regions and transportation, with costs to the public and private sectors already estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Around 200 miles of state highway are thought to be damaged or destroyed, along with 14 bridges, reported The New York Times.
“We deal with flooding all the time,” said Kyle Schneweis, the Director of the Nebraska Department of Transportation to The New York Times, but “when you talk about 1,500 miles of our system underwater, that’s an entirely different scope and scale.”
On Tuesday, Federal Railroad Administrator Ronald Batory declared an emergency event for railroad operations due to the flooding, reported Progressive Railroading. The region’s BNSF Railway Co., Union Pacific Railroad, and Amtrak Missouri River Runner systems were impacted heavily. Amtrak suspended its train service, while Union Pacific’s maintenance crew worked around-the-clock to clear trees and debris from tracks and repair track structures. BNSF subdivisions in Iowa, Nebraska, and Missouri are still out of service, with normal train flow likely to be down for an extended period, reported BNSF officials.
"We continue to closely monitor other areas along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers that are at risk for service outages in the days ahead," BNSF officials said to Progressive Railroading. "In response to any service interruptions, we will continue to utilize re-route options where possible to minimize disruption to traffic flows."
State officials reported to CNN that reports were coming in that farmers were losing a significant amount of stored grain and livestock, and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services have warned that the flooding may contaminate private water supplies.
"Cloudiness or a change in taste or smell are signs of possible contamination," said Sue Dempsey, Drinking Water Administrator, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, to CNN. "If there is any indication that the water supply has been breached by floodwaters, even without noticeable changes in taste or smell, I encourage residents to get a water sample kit for testing."
Unfortunately, there is no silver lining for the Midwestern states, as CNN reports that flooding could worsen because the snowpacked and frozen ground is unable to absorb incoming rainwater, along with the fact that the snow is beginning to melt. The news source reports that further flooding could occur in Nebraska and Iowa, and Kansas, Missouri, and Illinois are also expected to see a few more feet of rain before this weather event is over. Some experts even predict that this will be a problem for the area deep into spring, as AccuWeather Lead Long-Range Meteorologist Paul Pastelok attributed the weather event at least partially to El Nino.
"El Niño is likely to persist through the spring and not weaken like it usually does this time of the year," said Pastelok to USA Today.
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