WWNO skyline header graphic
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Local Newscast
Hear the latest from the WWNO/WRKF Newsroom.

Mississippi River Floods Did $20 Billion Worth Of Damage In 2019

Crews move a barge into place on Bayou Chene near Morgan City. The state built the temporary structure at the height of flood concerns in the summer of 2019.

Mississippi River flooding caused $20 billion in damage in 2019, according to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

As for 2020, forecasters say it’s too early to predict how the flood season will compare.

The $20 billion figure includes damage to public and private property, plus losses to crops and livestock, for the entire Mississippi River and its tributaries.

Last year, the damage was caused not only by the height of flood waters, but also the duration of them. Many locations along the river were at or above flood stage for nine months.  

In Louisiana, the seafood industry suffered the most damage in 2019. The influx of fresh water from the river jolted the Gulf ecosystem and decimated species like oysters and shrimp.

Credit Travis Lux / WWNO
Mitch Jurisich holds two dead oysters on a boat in Empire, LA during the summer of 2019. Healthy oyster shells are typically brownish in color, but these, Jurisich says, have been blackened by prolonged exposure to fresh water. Months of flooding from the Mississippi River caused massive oyster die-offs in both Louisiana and Mississippi from the spring through the fall.

The flooding last year was historic in many ways, but not isolated. Mayors up and down the Mississippi River are concerned about the increased frequency of flood events.

“There is definitely an upward trend we can chart over the last few years,” Bob Gallagher, Mayor of Bettendorf, Iowa said on a call with reporters Thursday.

Gallagher is co-chair of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, a group that advocates for the needs of cities and towns within the Mississippi River drainage basin.

“The spatial scale and duration of the 2019 Central U.S. flooding set many records," he said. "According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it's plausible to expect this trend to be more frequent, with damaging riverine and urban floods to continue.”

So far this spring, the river levels are high once again, though not quite as high as the same time last year. According to Jeff Graschel, a forecaster with  the Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center, it may be too early to say how 2020’s flood season will shake out.

“It is very early in the season still,” Graschel said. “And we still could get heavier rainfall that could occur up in the Ohio Valley or Missouri Valley that could get us back to those levels we had in 2019.”

Last year, the Bonnet Carre Spillway was opened twice — first in February, then again in May — to relieve pressure on the flooding Mississippi. Though the river is near the trigger point for operating it, the Army Corps of Engineers does not currently plan to do so.

Support for the Coastal Desk comes from the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and local listeners.

As Coastal Reporter, Travis Lux covers flood protection, coastal restoration, infrastructure, the energy and seafood industries, and the environment. In this role he's reported on everything from pipeline protests in the Atchafalaya swamp, to how shrimpers cope with low prices. He had a big hand in producing the series, New Orleans: Ready Or Not?, which examined how prepared New Orleans is for a future with more extreme weather. In 2017, Travis co-produced two episodes of TriPod: New Orleans at 300 examining New Orleans' historic efforts at flood protection. One episode, NOLA vs Nature: The Other Biggest Flood in New Orleans History, was recognized with awards from the Public Radio News Directors and the New Orleans Press Club. His stories often find a wider audience on national programs, too, like NPR's Morning Edition, WBUR's Here and Now, and WHYY's The Pulse.

👋 Looks like you could use more news. Sign up for our newsletters.

* indicates required
New Orleans Public Radio News
New Orleans Public Radio Info