Climate Change Impacts In Perspective

After a long week, I indulged this morning in a relaxing bout of random web surfing.  I keep up with the news during the week so for me this often consists of youtube surfing or Google Earth flying to find unusual and interesting places.  This morning I stumbled upon lake Sakakawea which I had never heard of.  It is an enormous lake that extends about 178 miles from the Western border of North Dakota almost to the middle of the state.  It was formed by damming the Missouri river with the Garrison Dam.  The dam opened in 1953.

Garrison Dam Spillway

Garrison Dam Spillway
Used only once since built over 60 years ago,
during the flood of 2011

What I found noteworthy was that its spillway’s first use in response to flooding was 2011 almost 60 years after the dam was built.  During that release the water flow rate was 4000 cubic meters per second.  Here is a youtube showing that historic release.

So why am I posting about this?  One of the predictions about climate change is that we would see an unprecedented increase in weather extremes both in quantity and severity.  This spillway went from never having been used to releasing this rather extraordinary volume of water.  This at a time when there was severe flooding of the Missouri river and the 178 mile lake would ideally have served as a buffer to reduce flow downstream.

MO River flowAll of the major dams along the Missouri were forced to increase their releases to more than double their prior records which had occurred in 1997.

So why is this significant?  Maybe it is just a statistical anomaly.  But it is an extraordinary one given that 1997 was already 20% more extreme than anything since records began on the upper Missouri over a century ago.

Missouri River Flood

Missouri River Flood

IS IT PROOF OF CLIMATE CHANGE – MAYBE, MAYBE NOT.  FOR PERSPECTIVE, HERE IS SOME MORE BACKGROUND ON THE ENTIRE MISSISSIPPI BASIN.  IT LOOKS LIKE THE FLOOD OF 1844 IS WORTH TAKING INTO CONSIDERATION.  MAYBE THE MISSISSIPPI FLOOD OF 1993 IS A TYPICAL 100 YEAR EVENT.

For perspective it is worth noting that there have been some other huge floods measured further downstream.  Most noteworthy, the flood of 1844 which stands as the Great One that all others are measured against.  It is estimated that the discharge was 625,000 cu ft / second in Kansas City compared to the flood of 1993 that saw only 541,000 cu ft / sec but crested higher due to the construction of levees along the river that restricted water from spreading out over lowlands upstream.

The flood of 1844 affected the Mississippi and was larger in flow than the floods of 1951 and 1993.

Mississippi

1844   1,300,000

1951   782,000

1993   1,030,000

Evangelical Christian Climate Scientist sets it straight

 

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