This week, the Pearl River in Jackson, Mississippi crested at 36.67 feet (5 metres), the river’s third highest crest on record. The deluge devastated the area, flooding the streets and thousands of homes. Entire neighbourhoods went underwater, and residents canoed down avenues.
Rainfall soared 400 per cent above normal levels for the month so far, driving the flood. According to the Washington Post, Jackson has already seen 19.9 inches of rain this year, the greatest year-to-date rainfall recorded in at least half a century of record-keeping. More than 2,400 homes have already been flooded. It could be weeks until officials know the full effects of the floods, and by then, more floods may be underway.
Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves declared a state of emergency on Saturday, and though the evacuation order has since been lifted, worries still remain. A new storm is engulfing the Southeast and spreading rain to the lowlands and snow in the Appalachians and coastal areas further east. The National Weather Service warned that the river is rising again. Dozens more streets could soon flood and slow recovery or create new problems all together, especially in the majority-black counties of Hinds and Rankin.
The Southeast generally sees this kind of flooding during spring. But because rising temperatures cause more intense precipitation and more ice to melt, these floods are happening earlier. Last year, floods in the Missouri, Mississippi and Arkansas River basins killed one dozen people and caused an estimated $US20 ($30) billion in damage. Parts of the Mississippi River overflowed for months, and stretches from Louisiana to Iowa saw destructive flooding that stripped soil bare. The past two years aren’t an anomaly either, but rather part of a pattern. An 2019 analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists found that the number of flood alerts issued by the National Weather Service has risen since 1986, reflecting our new saturated state.
On Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released their U.S. climate outlook through May, which hints at more dramatic flooding this spring. Though the agency has not yet made an official flood forecast, but it expects the eastern U.S. to see heavy rain in the coming months.
“There will be above normal precipitation from March through May,” Matt Rosencrans, a meteorologist with NOAA Climate Prediction Centre, said on a press call. “That will definitely set the stage for continued flooding.”
And the Southeast isn’t the only area that’s likely to see floods this year: In the Northeast, each of the five Great Lakes are also currently at or just below their record heights.