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Were the Mississippi River Floods Caused By Global Warming?

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Did Global Warming Cause The Mississippi Floods?

As the Mississippi River rises in what is destined to be the worst flood in decades, some analysts and media people ask why? Why does this river lately seem to have “100 year floods” every few years?Tennessee flooding

Global Warming

The culprit some say is, of course, global warming. Not only is the Army Corp of Engineers fighting a river that is swelling by the power of Nature, but also by the power of Man.

First, the carbon dioxide emitted by the burning of fossil fuels — cars, factories, power plants — loads the atmosphere with climate-warming greenhouse gas, pushing global mean temperatures higher. Warmer air holds more water vapor than colder air. This means a bloated Mississippi river System.

Climate scientists have projected that this will make wet areas wetter and dry ones dryer, and this appears to be happening in the continental United States. In some parts of the Mississippi River basin, there has been as much as 20 inches (50 cm) of rain in the last 30 days, which is up to 600 percent of the normal amount, climate researcher Dr. Peter Gleick said.

It’s All Part of the Natural Cycle.

Other researchers claim that the Mississippi floods are a product of natural climate cycles.

Global Weather Oscillations Inc. (GWO), a leading climate cycle forecast company, accurately forecast this year's historical Mississippi River flood, and predicts the next great Mississippi River flood to be in the year 2035, but added that climate cycles often occur in tandem and the area should be on alert for another possible flood in 2015.

Chief climate forecaster and CEO David Dilley in Ocala Florida, says GWO's proprietary climate forecasting model tracked multiple climate cycles which are related to the great floods of 1927, 1951, 1973 and 1993, and then accurately predicted for this year's great flood.

Maybe it is Man Made After All

I think that Man’s activities have increased the likelihood of Mississippi floods, but not because of global warming. It has more to do what we have done to the river itself and its surrounding floodplain in the last one hundred years.

To understand this, one needs a quick crash course in geography. The Mississippi River is a huge river system; in fact, 41% of the continental U.S. (31 states) drains into the Mississippi River.

A century ago, in its natural state, the river rambled across the floodplain every spring. It had a really wide channel, neatly a mile long at St. Louis.

In an effort to regulate the flooding and to convert the wetlands into fertile farmlands, over the years, the Army Corp of Engineers have built a series of levee systems that has radically altered the Mississippi.  Today the Mississippi at St. Louis is less than half as wide as it used to be in 1927.

Unfortunately, with the banks of the Mississippi narrower than years ago, the water will have a tendency rise—and flood.

To make matters worse, the massive levee systems have kept the floodplains generally drier. But drier lands have attracted more intense development in the floodplains behind them. Consequently, now there are more people and property in harm’s way in the event of a flood.

Plus, all that newly converted tile-drained farmland and commercial and residential development has increased the run-off pouring into the river and its tributaries, displacing even more water into the floodplains.

So What Can Be Done?

The federal government has recently realized the dangers of over development so close to the banks of the great river. Since 1993, the year of the last great Mississippi flood, the federal government has bought out about 40,000 flood-prone properties. This action, plus adding more wetlands will help lessen the impact of future floods.

Perhaps the best advice comes from one of our history’s most famous authors, who knew a lot about the river. Mark Twain often likened the Mississippi River to a great beast. The most sensible way of dealing with “The Beast” is, as with any other ferocious animal is to get the hell out of its way.

Contact Erik Uliasz at euliasz@philly2philly.com

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