1993 Flood vs. 2015's Wet Spring

2015 Wet So Far, But Nothing Like 1993

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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Flooding in a Texas sorghum field in 2015. Weather experts say this year doesn't quite compare to the 1993 growing season flooding. (DTN file photo by Emily Unglesbee)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Mike Carlson remembers 1993 and its severe flooding that damaged many crops that year. The Red Oak, Iowa, farmer said while the 2015 growing season has produced much rain on his southwest Iowa farm so far, it really does not compare to 1993.

"It's not as wet as 1993, at least not yet," Carlson told DTN on Wednesday. "We had about 14 inches of rain in May and June so far. We only planted just four days in May, so the crop is behind."

STARTED IN FALL OF 1992

The Great Flood of 1993 is the recent measuring stick used to assess other wet years. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the 1993 flood inundated more than 20 million acres in nine states, with both the Mississippi and Missouri rivers flooding. Losses were estimated to be $15 billion to $20 billion.

This year's nearly constant growing-season precipitation in many areas reminds some of 1993. While the 2015 growing season has been wet so far, weather experts say it is not comparable to 1993.

The flood of 1993 actually started in the fall of 1992 with above-normal precipitation in the Missouri and Mississippi river basins, according to Missouri State Climatologist Pat Guinan. This trend continued through the following winter and spring, he said.

"Essentially, the stage was set for major flooding across both basins for the summer of '93 if the wet pattern continued, and indeed that was the case," Guinan said.

Dennis Todey, South Dakota state climatologist, said the flooding along the major rivers in 1993 was due to winter snow melt and spring precipitation that primed the hydrologic situation, particularly in the north. Then heavy rains were dumped on top of this saturation all across the basins, he said.

"This year (2015) is very different," Todey said. "The only snow-induced flooding is in Colorado and Nebraska along the Platte River. The rest is just heavy rains."

Todey did acknowledge a few 2015 Corn Belt weather details have been similar 1993. Some areas have extremely wet field conditions and farmers have not been able to finish spring planting, something which also occurred in 1993.

However, in 2015, there are also large areas of the northern Corn Belt that are wet to just moist. These regions have not been having nearly the same issues they had in 1993, he said.

Doug Kluck, Central Region Climate Services director for NOAA's National Center for Environmental Information (NCEI) located in Kansas City, said he agrees 2015 does not compare to 1993. While east Texas is seeing heavy rains and flooding this year, the major rivers are not threatening to flood (at least not at this writing) which did happen in 1993.

"The outlooks do continue the same general cool and wetness for the area, but I don't see the 'big river' threat yet," Kluck said. "All that said, I'm guessing some crops could really use some sun and heat to crank up maturation."

RIVERS RISING

In the Eastern Corn Belt, Jason Scott watched the Wabash River fill quickly with heavy rains earlier this week. The farmer from Burrows, Indiana, in the north-central part of the state, saw about 8 inches of rainfall push the river to near flood stage.

"Earlier this spring was somewhat wet but not to this extreme; it finally caught up with us this week," Scott told DTN. "We were able to get a soaker and dry out, but it's so frequent that it just keeps ponding. The Wabash River is as high as I've ever seen it."

The rains caused water to pond on his area's fields, Scott said. There are many 2- to 8-acre ponds in the low areas of fields. The rains have fallen in 0.5-inch to 1.8-inch intervals, he estimated, so there have not been bad gullies.

But the moisture is starting to take a toll on the region's crops.

"The low holes are gone," he said. "Beans are totally underwater and the corn is turning yellow and dying."

Carlson, the southwest Iowa farmer, said that in his locale, the good spots in fields still have potential to produce a high-yielding crop, but the wet spots are large and getting bigger with every rain.

"Water is just running everywhere now after last week's rains," Carlson said. "It is just oozing out of the side hills."

Carlson also said it needs to keep raining, as many corn and soybean plants will develop shorter root systems since the roots do not have to move far in the soil to find moisture. A dry stretch of weather after these wet conditions would be bad news for plants with limited roots, he said.

Russ Quinn can be reached at russ.quinn@dtn.com

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(CZ/BAS/AG)

Russ Quinn