From the ABC 7 Weather team

Memphis flooding within an inch of historic 1937 flood

May 9, 2011 - 03:22 PM
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Will Graceland survive this historic flood?

A concrete truck is seen submerged in floodwater Monday, May 9, 2011, in Memphis, Tenn. Memphis residents are waiting for the Mississippi River to reach its peak expected as early as Monday night as the river rises near its highest level ever in Memphis, flooding pockets of low-lying neighborhoods. (Jeff Roberson) (Photo: Associated Press)

Memphis flooding quote of the week:

"Graceland is safe. And we would charge Hell with water pistols to keep it that way," said Bob Nations, director of the Shelby County Office of Preparedness.

That's from this Reuters report, which notes that in some places the Mississippi River has swollen to six times its usual width to become a three-mile-wide brown snake writhing angrily around buildings and vehicles. (Photo gallery.) The river is expected to crest today or Tuesday at 48 feet, which is a hair below the 1937 record of 48.7 feet. (Flood stage is 34 feet.) The National Weather Service has relayed a civil-emergency bulletin for Memphis and its environs telling people to be prepared to pack up and leave, especially if they live within the local 100-year flood plain. Despite the dire warnings, a system of levees and pumps should help keep most of the city dry.

This seasonal flooding has already broken river-crest records from Missouri to Tennessee. As Jeff Masters of Weather Underground points out, floodwaters in Caruthersville, Mo., reached 47.6 feet, more than a foot and a half higher than the 1937 record, although the Army Corps of Engineers' dynamiting of a levee near Cairo, Ill., reduced the risk of disastrous levee breaches elsewhere. That two-mile-wide explosive breach created its own problems, which you can see in the below satellite imagery from NOAA. The far left image was taken April 29; the other shots are from May 4 and show about 130,000 acres flooded (the red patches). Yes, there is a class-action lawsuit over this:

birds point levee

If you're curious about what was going on in 1937 to set all those high-water records, the Southeast Missourian has a fascinating account of that year's Great Freezing Flood, which also led to a breach of the Cairo levee. The rain that set up the conditions for the historic flood was so heavy, according to one historian's account, that “people who had lung disorders died because there was so little oxygen in the air.” Read more here.

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