What the historic Midwest floods look like from space — and from the ground

A freight train sits idle in floodwaters from the Platte River in Plattsmouth, Nebraska, on March 17, 2019.
Nati Harnik/AP

Last week, a historic “bomb cyclone” hit much of the middle of the country, bringing high winds, heavy rains, and a lot of snow to an area spanning Texas to Minnesota. Communities are still dealing with the consequences, as snow — from the cyclone, earlier winter storms, and the storm’s rains that melted snowpack elsewhere — gushed into rivers.

While surface temperatures were warm enough to melt the snow, the ground was still cold enough for the soil to be frozen, making it unable to absorb the runoff water.

“As runoff washed off frozen ground, it lifted the ice sheets up, broke them into huge slabs that banged downstream and eventually clogged together in ice jams, some several miles long,” the Omaha World-Herald explains.

The National Weather Center reports there is “major and historic” flooding rising along the banks of the Mississippi and Missouri River basins, particularly in Iowa and Nebraska, continuing through this week. So far, there have been at least three deaths due to the flooding, according to reports.

In this slider, you can see just how much the Missouri and Platte rivers near Omaha, Nebraska, have flooded. The image on the left, via NASA’s Operational Land Imager, is from last March, when there was no flooding. On the right is from March 16 of this year.

Earth Observatory/NASA

The Missouri River flood topped 47 feet in some areas. The widespread flooding has displaced some 4,400 people in the region; the entire town of Fremont is surrounded by floodwaters, the New York Times reports. As of Sunday, flood warnings were in effect for 9 million people in 14 states.

“This really is the most devastating flooding we’ve probably ever had in our state’s history, from the standpoint of how widespread it is,” Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said on Monday. Parts of Nebraska are under evacuation orders, schools are closed, and power loss due to the flooding has led the city of Lincoln, Nebraska, to issue water use restrictions. Farms in the region may be washed out beyond salvaging. The Washington Post reports there may be $500 million in livestock losses, and $400 million in agricultural losses, due to the flooding.

(Read more on all that in the Omaha World-Herald, which also has recommendations on how to help victims.)

Here’s what the flooding looks like on the ground.

The overflowing Missouri River near Platteview, Nebraska, on March 16, 2019, as floodwaters from the river cover highways and surrounding farmland.
Nati Harnik/AP
Homes are surrounded by floodwater from the Pecatonica River on March 18, 2019 in Freeport, Illinois.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Flooded RVs, washed away by the floodwaters of the Platte River, are seen in Merritt’s RV Park in Plattsmouth on March 17, 2019.
Nati Harnik/AP
Locals survey damage from the flood waters of the Platte River in Plattsmouth, Nebraska, on March 17, 2019.
Nati Harnik/AP
The Nebraska National Guard took this photo while responding to the flood.
Nebraska National Guard
The Nebraska National Guard surveys this extreme flooding.
Nebraska National Guard
Nebraska National Guard
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