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Tuesday marks 20-year anniversary record level in Flood of ’93

As seen in this News Tribune file photo, flooding set record levels along the Missouri River in the summer of 1993, including the 38.65-foot crest at Jefferson City on July 30 and 31.

As seen in this News Tribune file photo, flooding set record levels along the Missouri River in the summer of 1993, including the 38.65-foot crest at Jefferson City on July 30 and 31. Photo by News Tribune.

It’s been 20 years. Tuesday marks the anniversary of the deepest, most-expensive flood in Missouri’s recorded history.

It set record levels all along the lower Missouri River, including the 38.65-foot crest at Jefferson City on July 30 and 31, 1993.

That was 4.45 more feet of water than the previous record, 34.20 feet set on July 19, 1951 — and 5.15 more feet than the third-place level, 33.50 feet on June 6, 1903.

Many experts consider the flood of June 1844 as the greatest known in the lower Missouri Basin, but it occurred at a time when the region still was settled only sparsely — and flood measurements were not recorded in the same manner as today.

In today’s lingo, we might call the 1993 flooding in July and August — and again in September and October — the results of a “perfect storm.”

A large area of the lower Missouri River Valley received heavy rainfalls during the months of May and June. Totals for the month ranged from 18 inches at St. Louis to 27 inches at Fort Scott, Kan.

And, the National Weather Service said, storms and a massive, continuing rain system were the major cause 20 years ago of the record-setting flooding along the Missouri and upper Mississippi river basins.

“For 49 days, Jefferson City and other river towns were under siege from a merciless Missouri River, enlarged and strengthened by heavy rainfall from a storm system that lodged over the Midwest,” the News Tribune reported in the special publication, “River’s Rampage,” that remembered the 1993 floods several months after the experience.

As with many floods, the historic 1993 event began the previous fall with little notice.

According to the Weather Service: “The stage was set in 1992 with a wet fall, which resulted in above normal soil moisture and reservoir levels in the Missouri and Upper Mississippi River basins.

“The Great Flood of 1993 was widespread, covering nine states and 400,000 square miles, and lasting at some locations for nearly 200 days.”

Although forecasters began predicting a high-water possibility in the spring, no one that early saw the record-setting levels that the region ultimately experienced — because no one predicted that the weather system would “park” over the Midwest for weeks, rather than moving on as most weather systems do.

“Persistent weather patterns that produced storms over the same

locations ... throughout the late spring and summer bombarded the Upper Midwest with voluminous rainfall amounts,” the Weather Service explained. “Some areas received more than four feet of rain during the period.

“During June through August 1993, rainfall totals surpassed 12 inches across the eastern Dakotas, southern Minnesota, eastern Nebraska, Wisconsin, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana, (and) many locations in the nine-state area experienced rain on 20 days or more in July, compared to an average of eight to nine days with rain.”

The first inkling of real trouble in the Jefferson City area came on July 1, when the river rose more than 4 feet in just one day — from 20.1 feet (3 feet below the official flood stage) to 24.5 feet on July 2.

“Over the next six days,” we reported in the “River’s Rampage” retrospective, “nearly 10 inches of rain drenched the area,” with 7 inches coming on July 6-7 alone.

“Flash flooding from local creeks and tributaries forced people from their homes, washed out businesses and stranded motorists,” the newspaper reported.

Back then, U.S. 63’s southbound lanes in Callaway County, by the old Renz Prison, were older, and lower, than the northbound lanes — so transportation department crews prepared to close the southbound lanes and divert all traffic to the higher, northbound section until the highway was out of the flood plain, north of Cedar Creek.

Those lower lanes were closed on July 4, a Sunday, as the river levels climbed from 27.3 feet to 28.5 feet by the morning of July 5.

Most agreed that a majority of levees in the area would hold to about 30 feet.

But, in the area’s recorded weather history, only six floods had topped that 30-foot level — and most recently 42 years earlier, with the record-high 34.2 feet on July 18, 1951.

On July 5, that record would hold for only another 10 days.

On July 7, the crest reached 32.7 feet — the third-deepest flood in the region’s recorded history.

And the main levee protecting north Jefferson City broke, flooding most of the more than 100 homes and businesses there, and closing Memorial Airport.

On July 15, a new record-level — 34.5 feet — was set.

The next day, the Missouri River was at 34.6 feet and stayed at that level for two days.

The high waters closed all of U.S. 63 in the river bottom, forcing traffic to get from Jefferson City to Columbia by first going northeast on U.S. 54 to Fulton or Kingdom City.

Then the Missouri River began dropping.

A week later, the flood levels had fallen to 31.8 feet — and officials began making after-flood clean-up plans.

But heavy rains fell upstream.

And the river climbed almost 7 more feet in six days — setting the current record level, 38.65 feet, on July 30.

That same day, the surging waters overwhelmed the sandbags and Jersey barriers protecting motorists on U.S. 54 — and Cole County’s direct access to Callaway County was washed away.

The record crest-level held for two days.

Then, slowly, the river started to fall.

Still, it would be three more weeks — Aug. 20 — before the waters fell (barely) below the official, 23-foot flood stage level.

The repairs and cleanup would take months — slowed, to some extent, by more rains and a second surge of water that created a second flood in mid-September, with a 31.85-foot crest (at that time, the eighth deepest flood in Jefferson City history) on Sept. 29.

See also:

For Hartsburg, memories of river's rampage imprinted

Book to mark 20-year anniversary

To commemorate the 20-year anniversary of the ’93 Flood in Jefferson City, we will be publishing a book looking back at how the city and its residents responded to this natural disaster.

We’ve interviewed more than 50 local people affected by the flood and have gathered countless photos of the devastation. We welcome your thoughts and stories of your experiences during the ’93 flood, as well as any photos, for possible inclusion in the book. You can email those to us at 93flood@newstribune.com or bring them by our offices at 210 Monroe St.

If you’re interested in hearing more about how you can get a copy of the book, send us your name and phone number in an email at 93flood@newstribune.com. Please put “buy the book” in the email’s subject line. If you don’t have email, send us your name, phone number and address in a letter to News Tribune, 210 Monroe St., Jefferson City, MO 65101.

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