Flooding in Missouri
On this page you learn what types of flooding are typical in Missouri and how do you protect yourself, your family and your home. You will also find out more about significant Missouri floods. Finally, you'll find links to NWS offices that provide forecast and safety information for Missouri as well as links to our partners who play a significant role in keeping you safe.
Known as the “Great Flood of 1993,” this flood is considered to be among the most expensive ever in the United States, with total damages of over $15 billion and an overall death toll of 50, of which at least 13 took place in Missouri. This flood evolved from a series of heavy rain events along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, culminating with a crest of 49.58 feet and a flow of 1.08 million cubic feet per second on August 1 on the Mississippi River at St. Louis. On this day about 23 miles downstream of the St. Louis gage, the town of Valmeyer, IL, was flooded. The citizens of town decided not to rebuild the town at the same location, opting to rebuild on top of a nearby river bluff. Earlier along the Missouri River, the town of Rhineland, MO, upstream of Hermann, MO, was also destroyed and later rebuilt on higher ground.
The areas of record flooding extended well upstream of both the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers within Missouri, including western Illinois, western Wisconsin, southern Minnesota, southeastern South Dakota, eastern Nebraska, and much of Kansas, Missouri and Iowa. Months of heavy rainfall followed a winter of near to above average snowfall to produce significant spring flooding over much of Missouri. For the first 7 months of 1993, United States Department of Agriculture/Agriculture Stabilization and Conservation Service county offices reported more than 50 inches of rainfall in Osage, Sullivan, and Worth counties, more than twice their normal totals. In June and July, the rainfall intensified as mainly nocturnal thunderstorms affected much of the lower Missouri and middle Mississippi River basins.
Throughout the Midwest, at least 75 towns were completely inundated, an estimated 54,000 people were evacuated, and about 50,000 homes were damaged or destroyed by the flooding. And personal impacts extended well beyond flooded structures. In Iowa, for example, tens of thousands of people were unable to work due to a lack of public water supplies needed for sanitation, fire fighting, and routine operation of businesses.
Transportation was severely affected throughout Missouri. At one point in July, all road bridges between St. Louis and Burlington, IA, were closed due to flooding. On Friday, July 16, only 5 of 28 bridges connecting Missouri with Illinois were open. At one point, all bridges crossing the Missouri River between St. Louis and Kansas City were closed, along with sections of Interstates 29, 35, and 70 across Missouri, all at considerable cost to the trucking industry. Along the Mississippi River, barge traffic was halted for over a month, costing the barge industry between $3-4 million each day. The rail industry suffered losses of over $300 million, with more than $100 million in losses in Missouri alone. Damages to locks and dams and levee systems were staggering. Over a thousand levee systems, including 40 federal levees, were damaged or destroyed.
The agriculture industry also experienced huge losses. More than 600 billion tons of topsoil was removed by the flood and deposited downstream. Over a million acres was flooded, and much of it was farmland. All of this was a complete loss at harvest time, resulting in a total agricultural loss of $1 billion.
Missouri River at Boonville, Missouri on July 16, 1993 along Highway 5/40 looking north from the north end of the Boonville bridge.
U.S. Highway 54 looking south towards Jefferson City on July 30, 1993.
Lemay, Missouri, along River des Peres with Lemay Ferry Road becoming submerged from right to left. Neighborhood above (east) of Lemay Ferry Road has since been replaced by a park. Photo courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – St. Louis District.
Volunteers sandbagging in downtown Alton, Illinois
September 12-13, 1977
This was known as the Kansas City Flash Flood of September 1977. Two rounds of intense rain moved across the Kansas City metropolitan area on Monday, September 12. The first of these occurred early in the morning, saturating the soil and filling area streams for the second downpour that evening. Rainfall totals ranged from 10-16 inches that day throughout the south and east side of the metro area. The highest amount of rain was in Independence, where 16.22 inches of rain fell; however, the Brush Creek area was not left out. Most of the Brush Creek basin upstream of the Country Club Plaza on the south side of Kansas City received 14 or more inches of rainfall that day.
The USGS stream gage along Brush Creek at the Main Street Bridge at the Plaza was established in 1970. So while the period of record was not particularly long, the previous peak flood of record was only a stage of 9.20 feet and a corresponding flow of 4300 cfs. This peak was exceeded the morning of September 12, when the initial early morning rainfall produced a 5 a.m. crest of 10.57 feet and a flow of 5320 cfs. But by 11 p.m. that night, the flow was more than tripled, as the creek crested at 23.24 feet and a flow of 17,600 cfs.
The second deluge that evening began at 8 pm. The police dispatcher began receiving calls about the flooded streets and basements as soon as 8:22 pm; 5 to 6 feet of water inundated businesses in the Plaza. Of the 25 fatalities occurring from this event, 17 were in vehicles, and 20 were in Missouri. Property damage was estimated to total $90 million. After the event, police recovered 150 vehicles from the Brush Creek channel and adjacent public property. In addition, two commercial towing companies reported logging over 2,000 tows in the week following the flood. This event inspired community leaders to develop a massive flood control and beautification project along Brush Creek.
Submerged cars at Brush Creek and Country Club Plaza in Kansas City the evening of September 12, 1977
Flood damage along Brush Creek the following day
December 1-6, 1982
This flooding was part of a larger area of heavy rain, severe weather, and flooding that affected much of the Middle and Lower Mississippi Valley in December 1982 and January 1983. This flooding was referred to as the “Floods of December 1982 and January 1983 in Central and southern Mississippi River basin” by the U.S. Geological Survey. As is often observed during an historic flood event, this flood event was preceded by substantial rainfall in the days leading up to this event: 2 to 4 inches of rain fell over most of the Meramec, Black, Gasconade, and Cuivre River basins in the 10 days prior. Over the first 4 days of December, rainfall producing record flooding ranged from near 9 inches of rain at Troy (8.7”) up to over 13 inches over portions of southern Missouri; Alton reported 13.18 inches. The 5-day totals over specific river basins ranged from 5 to 9 inches over the Cuivre River basin, from 7 to 10 inches over the Black River basin, and from 6 to 8 inches over the Current River basin and the lower Meramec River basin. Six people died in the flash flooding associated with this event, two of them during a rescue attempt. Property losses included over 3,000 severely damaged residences and more than 700 completely destroyed. Almost 18,000 people were left homeless, particularly affecting Arnold, Valley Park, Times Beach, and Pacific. While damage totals were not available, these totals were initially expected to exceed $100 million.
The flooding associated with this event was record-setting for at least 9 forecast points in Missouri, including the Moreau River at Jefferson City, the Gasconade River at Hazelgreen, Jerome, and near Rich Fountain, the Big Piney River near Big Piney, the Bourbeuse River at Union, the Meramec River at Pacific, near Eureka, and at Valley Park, and the Black River at Poplar Bluff.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this flood involved the destruction of Times Beach, MO, just across the Meramec River from the river gage near Eureka. In the 1970s, the town paid a local contractor to spray an oil substance onto the streets of the town to help control the dust problems that had developed from the town’s unpaved streets. Just before the flood, it was discovered this oily substance contained levels of dioxin 100 times higher than what was considered hazardous to humans. The flood inundated homes with up to 10 feet or more of water. Though residents returned to their homes once floodwaters receded, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency started the process of permanently buying out residents and businesses from the community in 1983. By the end of 1986, all residents had been relocated. Comprehensive cleanup of the site then began and was completed by 1997. This included on-site excavation and incineration of soil with high levels of dioxin. The site was opened to the public as the Route 66 State Park in 1999. Subsequent testing in 2012 revealed dioxin remaining on this land, but at levels considered to be safe for park visitors and park employees.
Pacific, Missouri along the Meramec River during the flood of December 1982
Valley Park, Missouri during the Meramec River flood of December 1982
Interstate 44 at the Highway 141 exit near Valley Park in December 1982
October 4-6, 1998
Again, Brush Creek was the center of attention during the October 1998 Western Missouri Flash Flood. And again, this round of deadly flooding followed a period of significant rainfall before the actual event. In this event, the last days of September and the first two days of October left much of western Missouri saturated. Several rounds of heavy rain-producing thunderstorms hit the Kansas City metropolitan the morning of October 4, continuing into the afternoon. In Lee's Summit, MO, about 10 people were rescued from their flooded apartment complex as the water depth on Third Street reached 3 feet.
Shortly after 7 pm, a slow moving line of thunderstorms moved into the metropolitan area. Some of these storms dropped 3 to 5 inches of rain in less than 2 hours. The thunderstorms forced a 52-minute delay of a nationally televised Monday Night Football game between the Chiefs and the Seahawks.
Eight of the ten fatalities were in the Brush Creek basin. Seven deaths occurred when people attempted to cross Brush Creek at the Prospect Avenue bridge. The 8th fatality in that basin was a 57-year old woman found at a tennis court at State Line Road and 53rd Street. Farther east, an 8-year old boy drowned in a creek near Lake Jacomo. On the south side of St. Joseph, a 56-year old man drowned when his car was washed into Pigeon Creek near 41st Road.
Property losses and major road closures were extensive. All tenants lost their homes when an entire apartment complex along Woodland Avenue near Brush Creek was inundated. Many businesses along Southwest Boulevard sustained severe damage and required assistance. At least 200 families reported flood damage in Kansas City. The Kansas City Fire Department reported over 200 water rescues during the flood throughout the metropolitan area. North of the Missouri River in the Kansas City area, Platte County reported numerous roads closed, including portions of Highways 371 and 45. In Clay County, bridges were washed out at 188th Street and Nation Road and at 199th and Outer Road. In Smithville and Mosby, water was 3 to 6 feet deep over roadways. The highest 24-hour rainfall totals from this event were around 7 inches in Ray and Carroll counties, where numerous roads were closed due to flooding and mudslides. Flood losses from this event were estimated to exceed $29 million.
The peak flow on Brush Creek with this flood was 21,700 cfs, or about 4,000 cfs higher than the 1977 peak, albeit from a different gaging station about a half mile downstream from the location where the 1977 peak was measured.
Derrick Thomas of the Kansas City Chiefs on October 4, 1998 delays the Monday Night Football game between the Chiefs and the Seattle Seahawks.
Hourly rainfall estimate from the National Weather Service WSR-88D radar located in Pleasant Hill, Missouri. In the period between approximately 7 pm CDT and 8pm CDT, between 4 and 5 inches of rain fell over the Brush Creek basin.
For southeastern Missouri and parts of south central Missouri, this period of flooding, part of the Spring 2011 Middle and Lower Mississippi River Valley flood, is unsurpassed. Although there were no Missouri deaths directly attributable to this flood, property and crop losses alone were estimated to exceed $320 million. The greatest loss of property resulted from the operation of the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway late on May 2 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, on direction of the Mississippi River Commission President. The purpose of this floodway was to divert floodwater into the floodway to bring the overall height of the floodwater down. This action involved blowing open a 2-mile long opening on one end of the floodway using explosives. On May 3 and 5, additional blasts opened the lower end of the floodway, allowing the evacuated Mississippi River water to rejoin the main channel. This operation forced 200 residents of the floodway to leave their homes. The Farm Bureau estimated damages in this floodway to be $250 million, including public infrastructure, private property, crop losses, and commerce. Overall, the cost of this flood was estimated to be in the billions of dollars.
Record snowmelt in the upper Mississippi River basin and Ohio River basin led to significant spring flooding along both rivers in March and April. The end of April brought and variety of severe weather and flash flooding in both basins, particularly from southern Missouri into the lower Ohio River basin. The 3-week maximum rainfall totals ranged from 17 to more than 20 inches over west central Kentucky, southern Illinois, and south central and southeastern Missouri. These events lead to the record crest on the Ohio River at Cairo, IL of 61.72 feet on the evening of May 2. The crest would have been higher if not for the activation of the Birds Point New Madrid floodway that same evening. The Mississippi River fell a half foot in just the first hour of floodway operation that evening.
This flooding continued downstream to produce floods of record at a total of 18 gaging stations along the Mississippi River and along upstream tributaries. Three of these Mississippi River records took place at Missouri gaging stations: New Madrid, Tiptonville, and Caruthersville. The flow of water from this flood exceeded the historic floods of 1937, 1973, and 2008. This was the first time the Birds Point New Madrid floodway was operated at the same time as the two Louisiana floodways: Bonne Carre Spillway and Morganza Floodway.
Spillway erosion at Wapapello Lake on May 5, 2011.
Inundated farmhouse near Poplar Bluff, Missouri in late April 2011
Flooded farm property in the Birds Point New Madrid floodway on May 5, 2011
Flash flooding is a rapid and extreme flow of high water into a normally dry area, or a rapid water level rise in a stream or creek above a predetermined flood level, beginning within six hours of the causative event (i.e.,
intense rainfall, dam failure, ice jam). More information...
River flooding occurs when river levels rise and overflow their banks or the edges of their main channel and inundate areas that are normally dry. More information...
A back-up of water into surrounding areas can occur when a river or stream is blocked by a build-up of ice or other debris. Debris Jam: A back-up of water into surrounding areas can occur when a river or stream is blocked by a build-up of debris. More information...
Flooding due to snowmelt most often occurs in the spring when rapidly warming temperatures quickly melt the snow. The water runs off the already saturated ground into nearby streams and rivers, causing them to rapidly rise and, in some cases, overflow their banks.More information...
Dam Breaks/Levee Failure
A break or failure can occur with little to no warning. Most often they are caused by water overtopping the structure, excessive seepage through the surrounding ground, or a structural failure. More information...
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