IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Unprecedented Flooding Spurs Hydrology Office in Missouri

The state is working on deploying a Hydrology Information Center like the one in Iowa, after a period of severe drought followed by unprecedented flooding, to get a handle on the trend of warmer, wetter weather.

A flooded roadway in Missouri, whose residents are used to floods.
Around the world, signs of climate change are manifesting themselves in the form of increasingly intense drought, rainfall, wildfires and even a combination of these.

In Missouri, it was the drought of 2018 followed by the floods of 2019 that led state officials to the conclusion that the status quo — reacting to events — was no longer acceptable and that a management strategy with coordination and cooperation of all stakeholders was imperative.

Thus, the state is moving to deploy the Missouri Hydrology Information Center, which will serve as a hub for information sharing for stakeholders and a place where the public can gain an understanding of vulnerabilities and hazards when it comes to drought and flooding events.

The overall goal is for the new office to combine the expertise in the state to ensure stakeholders share resources and at the same time develop a public safety aspect by educating residents and providing data and GIS maps about eminent threats — in short, a more resilient future.

That drought back in 2018 was short-lived but severe. Some communities in the northern part of the state were weeks away from being unable to provide water to customers.

The flood the next year was off the charts, reminding locals of the Great Flood of 1993, one of the worst in U.S. history. Those combined events led to the convening of an advisory working group to look at ways to mitigate such scenarios in the future. Out of that came the recommendation to develop a hydrology information system, to kind of emulate the one that’s been in place in Iowa for the last 13 years.

“What was different about this [2019] flood and what really piqued people’s interest was the duration,” said Jennifer Hoggatt, director of the Water Resources Center for the state’s Department of Natural Resources. Some areas of the state were in official flood stage for more than 270 days, Hoggatt said.

“It was really the fact that folks dealt with this from the spring through the summer and really saw a need to do something different,” she said.

One of the things Missouri intends to do, as Iowa has done, is create a web-based system with mapping for residents and other stakeholders to go to for information about precipitation. Iowa uses a variety of tools, including sensors to monitor areas throughout the state for precipitation, and puts into effect the U.S. Geological Survey stream gauge system and the National Weather Service system.

“They can give folks a ‘Here’s the risk level coming over the next week, what does that mean for you,’ assessment,” Hoggatt said.

The Iowa Flood Information System, within the Iowa Flood Center, has had 13 years to develop and has become a source that residents use when presented with the possibility of flooding. During a recent flood, the system had more than 300,000 visits from Iowans on a Friday evening between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Visitors to the site see where they are in a flood plain and what the forecasted flood levels are for each area, and can zoom in on areas for specifics. “It’s a one-stop shop,” said Dr. Larry Weber, professor in the Iowa Flood Center at the Iowa College of Engineering and one of the founders of the flood center.

“It’s more than just warning people,” Weber said. “It’s the literacy part. We have the online system that provides data and information from National Weather Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA, and puts it all in one system that’s built on Google maps.”

Back in Missouri, Hoggatt said the center will do much more than warn residents, but will also match parts of the state that have no water with other areas with plenty of it to share resources.

Soil moisture monitoring is part of that equation, not only for predicting which areas will flood but also for understanding where water is to help agriculture and other needs.

Hoggatt said the state has old river channels buried during the glacial period that it wants to “mine” for resources. “We know there is still water in those channels that is usable, but it’s kind of hard finding where those are and so we’re looking to do some pinpoint mapping," she explained.

It’s been documented that Missouri has gotten warmer and wetter during the last few decades.

“Most notably, with temperatures since almost the past 25 years, we’ve been in an unprecedented warm period,” said Pat Guinan, professor of climatology at the University of Missouri Extension. “Precipitation-wise we’re in an unprecedented wet period,” he added.

He said in records going back to 1895, four of the five wettest years have occurred since 1970. He said during that period the state has seen more extreme events as well, including “three-inch” rain — that is three or more inches during a 24-hour period.

“If you were looking at three-inch events going back to 1895, using weather stations associated with the National Weather Service, the trend during the past 20 years is a 37 percent increase in those events,” Guinan said.

“We’ve seen some historic flooding over the past few decades, and all the precipitation we’ve documented backs that up.”