Widespread Floods Hit Quickly03/15/2019
The “bomb cyclone” that hit Wednesday and Thursday flooded dozens of towns and cities across a wide swath of Nebraska and South Dakota into Iowa and northwest Missouri. In Nebraska, the floods shut down much of the region outside of Omaha.
Highways across Nebraska were closed Thursday, including the entire Panhandle region, and Interstate 80 from Kearney, Nebraska to the Wyoming border remained closed from Wednesday. In Iowa, parts of Interstate 29 from Council Bluffs to the north were closed as well, and flash flood warnings were issued across the state.
The National Weather Service projected “prolonged major flooding” on the Missouri River and its tributaries across all of Iowa and Missouri into eastern Kansas.
Roughly 8,000 people in Norfolk, Nebraska, about one third of the town’s population, were asked to evacuate early Thursday morning because of risk of levee breach. In other parts of western and central Nebraska, people were being asked to evacuate in blizzard conditions.
Levees were breached and at least one dam was breached along the Niobrara River in northeast Nebraska near the South Dakota border that appeared to take out the bridge on Highway 281, a key artery. Bridges were wiped out, which shut down access to several communities.
Social media was filled with images of entire towns in scattered across Nebraska that were underwater Thursday.
Southeastern South Dakota, including Sioux Falls, was facing similar flooding challenges and water topped Interstate 90 west of the city. Gov. Kristi Noem closed state offices across all of South Dakota on Thursday and the vast majority of counties in the state also shut down their courthouses because of blizzards and flooding.
DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson said the storm system that can be described as a “bomb cyclone” out of Colorado caused flooding in two ways. First, the vacuum-type intensity of the cyclone led to a powerful inflow of warm air from the Gulf of Mexico into the central Plains and Midwest, causing a rapid melting of a snow cover of at least a foot deep. The ground beneath the snow was frozen from a cold, late winter, and was already saturated from heavy rain last fall, so all the melted snow is now running into rivers and streams. Secondly, warm air from the south had a full load of Gulf of Mexico moisture, which resulted in rainfall of record amounts in some locations — generally 1 to 3 inches in the western Midwest, which simply added to the snowmelt and runoff.
Meanwhile, still-cold conditions in the northern sector of this storm system produced heavy snow, strong winds and blizzard conditions in the western and Northern Plains. Snow totals of more than a foot were noted. In the Northern Plains crop areas, this additional snow will add to flood potential later this spring.
Near Neligh, Nebraska, Kenny Reinke faced high winds and snow Thursday morning, with close to zero visibility at times, while dealing with heavy rains from the prior day and a half that caused extensive flooding throughout most of northeast Nebraska. Reinke noted one problem for the rain and runoff was that much of the ground remained frozen, so the ground was absorbing little of the moisture. Reinke said normally his farm can handle a typical heavy rainfall, “But in this case, it’s not so much the amount of rain, but nothing can take it in because everything is frozen. I’ve never seen anything like this,” Reinke said.
“I do have a wheat crop on a couple quarters and it was in tough enough shape as it was. This could be the dagger in it,” Reinke said. “I’m not sure how much will be abandoned. I’m also worried about some clay soil hills — the water was cutting right through roads, so there might be some gully erosion.”
Reinke added, “My heart goes out to the livestock guys, we’re in calving season right now.”
The livestock industry is getting hit hard with extreme weather in Nebraska, with a blizzard raging in the western part of the state and widespread flooding in the central and eastern parts of the state.
Pete McClymont, the executive vice president of the Nebraska Cattlemen, told DTN the punishing weather is creating a lot of stress for livestock producers.
“Even the best livestock managers are going to have issues in these types of conditions,” McClymont said.
First it was low temperatures and winter weather affecting the calving season. High death loss is expected as cow/calf producers have to be present to ensure calves born outside in these tough conditions get warmed up in time so they can survive.
Now it is dangerous flooding as heavy rains Wednesday on frozen soil pushed streams and rivers out of their banks and forced the closure of many rural roads and highways. This has created even more strain on livestock, but also on those who take care of them.
McClymont gave the example of his organization’s president, Mike Drinnin, who operates a feedyard north of Columbus, Nebraska, and his son, Sam, runs their feedyard near Palmer. Sam lives away from the facility, and it took him two hours to get to their yard this morning, he said.
Further west in the Nebraska Panhandle, a severe blizzard is raging across the Sandhills. The weather is keeping cattle producers in many cases from even checking on their livestock currently, he said.
McClymont said Thursday morning he has had multiple conversations with Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts’ office, and the Nebraska Department of Agriculture and its director Steve Wellman. While it is too early to know the extent of the damages from the challenging weather, the group is monitoring the situation closely.
Doug Ruskamp, a cattle feeder near Dodge, Nebraska, like a lot of feeders in his area, is fortunate enough his cattle are largely kept in pens on a hillside. “We don’t have much trouble with the actual flooding, but our biggest problem is our lagoons are pretty full because of all the rain and snow melt,” Ruskamp said. “Our pens are sloppy and muddy, but not horribly deep so we’re kind of fortunate that way, I guess.”
At the time he spoke to DTN, Ruskamp was sitting on a highway with area farm ground and the road inundated with water. “We’re sitting on Highway 32 just west of West Point (Nebraska) and I’ve never seen this much water here. It’s unbelievable.” Ruskamp said he has some fed cattle scheduled for delivery early next week, “but I’m glad I didn’t schedule them for this week, because I would have never got them out.”
Another area feeder told DTN workers were cut off from the feedyard and it was impossible to get some fed cattle to a packing plant because so many roads were cutoff.
Farther south, in northwest Missouri, Richard Oswald was evacuating his farm along the river bottom with most of the population of Atchison County, because the forecast projected a possible record crest of the Missouri River near Brownville, Nebraska, over the weekend. That risks topping the levee that protects multiple northwest Missouri towns. There were more highway closures in southeast Nebraska as well.
“I got the pickup stuck in the middle of the road just now because the roads are awful,” Oswald said. “We’re moving machinery today. Our house will be flooded if the levee breaks. It’s right in the middle of the floodplain.”
Editor’s Note: DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton, and DTN Staff Reporters Emily Unglesbee and Russ Quinn contributed this report.
Follow them on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN, @Emily_Unglesbee and @RussQuinnDTN