Dramatic Satellite Photos Show Historic Flooding Across Central U.S. in Wake of Bomb Cyclone

Missouri River flooding near the border between Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri.
Missouri River flooding near the border between Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri.
Image: Sentinel Hub

When last week’s bomb cyclone hit the Midwest, it was hard to imagine the inundation it could bring amid whiteout conditions and more than a foot of snow. But the warm weather that wrapped in behind it quickly melted out all that white stuff and unleashed historic flooding across parts of Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, and Missouri.

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Floodwaters have worked their way down the rivers that run like arteries through the region, overtop the banks of the Missouri, Platte, Elkhorn, and more. Dams have been destroyed, bridges and other infrastructure have been washed away, and small towns have been cut off from the outside world, surrounded by moats of muddy water. The flooding has also paralyzed the various military bases scattered across the region, with waters lapping up against Fort Leavenworth and Offutt Air Force Base, home U.S. Strategic Command. As Task and Purpose helpfully notes, that means the base that “oversees the Pentagon’s nuclear strategic deterrence and global strike capabilities” is largely underwater.

The situation also neatly illustrates how climate change—which is leading to more intense precipitation—is a threat multiplier.

As of Monday, nine flood gauges operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration remained at major flood stage with another 17 in moderate flood stages. While the on-the-ground photos show the human toll of the floods, satellites are the best way to get a handle on the full scope of what’s happening in the Midwest. Below are before and after images captured by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel satellites.

Where the Missouri (left) and Nishnabotna (right) rivers meet on the border of Iowa, Nebraska, and Missouri.
Gif: Sentinel Hub
The Missouri River snaking through Omaha.
Gif: Sentinel Hub
The Missouri River near Camp Ashland, a Nebraska National Guard training center.
Gif: Sentinel Hub
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A view of Kansas’ Fort Leavenworth (lower and middle left), an army installation, on the banks of the Missouri River.
Gif: Sentinel Hub
The convergence of the Elkhorn (left) and Platte (right) rivers in Nebraska.
Gif: Sentinel Hub
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The confluence of the Missouri (upper) and Niobrara (lower left) rivers near Niobrara, Nebraska. One of the bridges into town was washed out by the floodwaters after a dam ruptured.
Gif: Sentinel Hub

Managing editor at Earther, writing about climate change, environmental justice, and, occasionally, my cat.

DISCUSSION

dnapl
Dense non aqueous phase liquid

We’re not even into spring flooding season yet for the entire Mississippi River Basin (i.e. about 1/3 of the lower 48 total area).

One of the problems with late winter flooding is frozen ground. Water doesn’t seep into the ground.

Some more cool data from NWS North center River Forecast center.

Frost depth maps: the diamonds are sampling points for frost depth as shown on the legend. The coloring is snow depth.

Missouri Basin River Forecast: river staging. Frost depth from Missouri district indicates Nebraska frost line is about 24 inches below ground surface.

OK, OK, yes it’s a bit to much on the graphics for a dumb comment. What can I say, I love public met and geo data. You could vote republican and gut government science and free data via the administrative state to put an end to this kinja graphics craziness.