How Human Error Turned A Bad Midwest Storm Into A Deadly Flood

Many of us can’t forget the scenes of the deadly storm that wrecked the Midwest in late December by flooding cities and leaving thousands of people displaced from their homes.

Super-charged by El Niño, the storm dumped unprecedented amounts of rain in the region that caused the Mississippi River and its tributaries to swell to record levels. And now, scientists say there’s much more to the story.

It wasn’t just torrential downpours that caused the flooding, according to a new study published in this month’s issue of the Journal of Earth Science. Rather, the disaster may have been man-made.

The study suggests that floodplains lining the Mississippi and Meramac rivers in Missouri have been shrinking for decades, due to construction projects along the banks that have transformed farmland into levees, landfills, shopping centers and suburban neighborhoods.

All of this development has constricted the river channels, which now can’t absorb as much rain as they once could, Dr. Robert Criss, the study’s lead author and professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, told The Huffington Post. During heavy rain, the choked river channels can cause flooding like what we saw in December.

“I think the human causes [of flooding], at least in the midwest, vastly overwhelm the natural problems,” Criss said.

Criss and his co-author, Dr. Mingming Luo, a researcher at the China University of Geosciences in Wuhan, China, compared the December flood to a similar El Niño-related flood in the same midwest area in 1982.

The researchers discovered that the December flood’s highest point at Valley Park, Missouri — a city south of St. Louis on the Meremac River — was 3 feet higher than it had been in 1982.

The river channel at Valley Park appeared to be much narrower than it used to be —> Read More