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Ongoing rains worsen record-breaking floods along Missouri River

Rising waters threaten Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota, and are expected to push south soon. The Midwest will be underwater all summer, say officials.

By Staff writer / June 6, 2011

Residents of Fort Pierre, S.D., add sandbags to a dike surrounding a home in Fort Pierre on Sunday, June 5. Releases from the Oahe Dam are currently at 120,000 cubic feet per second and are expected to hit 150,000 cfs on June 7.

Chris Mangan / Capital Journal / AP

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Heavy flooding along the Missouri River will last throughout the summer, predict federal officials. The surging waters, created by unprecedented weather conditions, have already caused levee failures, and more are expected to come.

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The Missouri River and its tributaries in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota are swelling with water. A confluence of factors are driving the rising waters, notably the record heavy snowfall earlier this year in the Rocky Mountain region. Snow accumulation was 140 percent above normal, says Lynn Maximuk, director of the National Weather Service in the central region.

“We do have quite an unusual set of circumstances, meteorologically,” Mr. Maximuk told reporters Monday afternoon.

The unusually heavy snows – combined with ongoing heavy rains, expected to continue all summer – will create a total runoff of some 55 million acre-feet of water, according to projections from the US Army Corps of Engineers. (An acre-foot of water is the equivalent of one foot of water covering one acre of land.)

That’s the highest runoff level since they began keeping records in 1898.

The immediate danger this week comes from heavy storms, expected to move south along the river valley. Meteorologists predict that 2 inches of rain in Montana and North Dakota and up to 3 inches of rain in Omaha, Neb., will fall over the next few days, Maximuk says.

May was the second-wettest month for northern Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota since 1889.

To relieve pressure on the river, the Corps plans to release 150,000 cubic feet per second of water at the Oahe Dam above Pierre, S.D., on Tuesday. The other dams will be opened in succession, remaining open through mid-August.

Kevin Grode, a Missouri Basin reservoir regulation team leader with the Corps, says the amount of water released may increase, depending on the changing climate.

“We are going to be testing the system,” he stresses, “because we’ll be releasing more water than has ever been released before.”

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