Mississippi water levels are the highest they’ve been in years


Elizabeth Trevathan

An area of the Mississippi River is covered by water, which is the effect of what is known as the 100 year flood.

The Mississippi River in St. Paul, MN surpassed the record of consecutive days in flood stage in May 2019. Flood stage for the Mississippi River in St. Paul is identified as the river being 14 or more feet deep. The river dropped below 14 feet the night of May 4, putting an end to the 42 consecutive days the river had been above 14 feet deep. The river crested 34 days prior on Mar. 31 at 20.19 feet causing Warner / Shepard Road to close due to flooding. The previous record stood at 33 feet in 2001. 

Senior Sonja Henze rows with Minnesota Boat Club on the Mississippi River between late March until early November This past year, they spent the first two months of their season unable to row, and instead spent their time emptying the boathouse in April. Henze said, “All throughout the summer the water went down, however, now the water is very high again. We had to stop rowing three weeks ago because of the swift current and high water level. We are worried we will have to evacuate everything again if the water keeps rising.”

Historically, there is a 98.5% chance that the river exceeds 2.5 feet between Sep. 30 and Dec. 29, but based on recent river levels, there is the same percentage change that the river exceeds 7.5 feet within the same period. On Oct. 13, the river stands at 12.88 feet and should steadily lower to just above 10 feet by Oct. 20. These river levels are higher than historical data but follow the trend of higher water levels on a regular basis. 

Henze said, “I have been rowing for three years and have never seen the water this high in the fall. Additionally, during my time rowing we have never had to evacuate the boathouse. My rowing coach said the last time they had to evacuate the boathouse was about 40 years ago.”

The Friends of Pool 2 nonprofit organization hopes that the river doesn’t freeze until early winter. In their most recent River Update, they explained, “Mother nature’s underground storage tanks are full, so when rain hits the ground it runs off into the river. If the river’s surface doesn’t freeze, the water evaporates, which helps lower the river level. So the late autumn sun and wind can still help bring the river level down.”

The flood that the Mississippi River experienced in the spring of 2019 is known as a 100-year flood. But there has been numerous 100-year floods since 2014. In fact, the Mississippi River crested at 20.13 feet in 2014, only 0.06 feet less than the 2019 crest. Leading many citizens who have experienced these floods confused by their name. A 100-year flood is defined as a flood that has a 1% chance of occurring each year. This information leads many, including Friends of Pool 2, to question the predictability. 

Since 1970, precipitation levels in Minnesota have increased by a third of an inch a year every decade. More precipitation in the state means more water in the river. Scientists have yet to say if the increased number of 100-year floods and precipitation levels mean that citizens should prepare for floods on a more consistent basis or not.