From Louisiana to Michigan, rivers are spilling over their banks after days of heavy rainfall. Flood warnings and advisories, as well as flash flood warnings and watches, were in effect Thursday for a broad swath of the Southern Plains, the lower Mississippi Valley and the Ohio Valley, prompting road closures and water rescues, and even forcing several regions to evacuate.
The flooding has gotten particularly bad in parts of Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana, with states of emergency declared in Elkhart, Goshen, and the Lansing area, according to the Associated Press. Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters told Earther that the up to four inches of rain that fell in parts of southwest Michigan this week amounted to one of the top three winter rain events on record.
Homes and streets are becoming inundated in South Bend, Indiana, where the St. Joseph River broke its historic flood record when it surged past 12 feet this morning. (Flood stage is 5.5 feet.) Meanwhile, the Yellow River in Plymouth, Indiana, also smashed a record, with water levels topping 17 feet (flood stage 13) and continuing to climb. Classes were canceled Thursday at Indiana University-South Bend, while Michigan State University took the unusual measure of deploying a flood barrier on campus as spillover from the Red Cedar River swamped roads and athletic fields.
The heavy rainfall and floods have already been blamed for several deaths, including a 53-year-old man whose car was swept off the road by floodwaters in Oklahoma, and a one-year-old Michigan girl found dead in standing water in her family’s backyard, the AP reports.
Unfortunately, the National Weather Service says more heavy rainfall is in the cards for this part of the country, as warm, moist air from the Gulf continues to advect northward along the axis of an unusually kinky jet stream. That means the potential for even more flooding in the days to come. As the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang noted on Wednesday, the levels of precipitable moisture in the air are downright summerlike: about four times more than what is normal for February in Michigan, New York State, and Maine.
The temperatures here on the East Coast have been pretty summerlike, too, with a locked-in high pressure ridge slaying heat records from Georgia to Maine. Meanwhile, a countervailing low pressure system out west has led to wild temperature swings in the opposite direction.
Nothing about this week’s weather is normal, but we might want to get used to that. As climatologist Brian Brettschneider noted on Twitter yesterday, the intensity of high pressure ridges has increased substantially since the 1960s.
Summer-like temperatures, rainstorms, and even floods in the middle of winter could all be symptoms of an atmosphere thrown increasingly out of whack.