Flooding hits Midwest in wake of ‘bomb cyclone’
CHICAGO – Severe floods closed highways, caused evacuations and forced a series of tense water rescues across the Midwest on Thursday as melting snow and heavy rain created dangerous conditions.
“If you choose to stay where you’re at, you’re on your own,” said Shane Weidner, public safety director in Norfolk, Nebraska, where a levee system was nearing capacity and police officers had told about one-third of the city’s 24,000 residents to evacuate.
Weidner said one person was reported missing in Norfolk and a family of 10 was stranded in a home surrounded by rising waters. City officials were asking residents with airboats for their help in rescuing the family.
Across parts of Nebraska, South Dakota and Iowa, rising water was threatening homes and covering farm fields, and authorities warned people to stay off swamped roadways. In Minnehaha County, S.D., which includes Sioux Falls, the sheriff’s office posted a photo of a car washed off the road. In Sergeant Bluff, Iowa, near Sioux City, residents were asked to conserve their water use because “all the draining water is inundating our sewer system.” And in Nebraska, the State Patrol said at least one rural bridge appeared to have been destroyed and that large ice blocks had washed down from rivers and covered highways.
Flooding was also reported in parts of Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin and Illinois.
Springtime flooding is common along rivers in the Midwest, but the speed and ferocity of the floods this week were unusual. The rising waters, which filled some rivers to near-record levels, were caused by a mix of heavy rain, melting snowpack and frozen ground.
“That’s a recipe for what we have right now, which is major flooding,” said David Pearson, a hydrologist at the National Weather Service office near Omaha, Nebraska. “All that water doesn’t soak into the ground and goes straight into the rivers.”
In Sioux Falls, where water crept onto sidewalks and covered some streets, Mayor Paul TenHaken pleaded with residents to stay indoors. “A lot of stalled cars, a lot of people making bad decisions right now,” TenHaken said in a news conference.
In Ashland, Neb., west of Omaha, firefighters warned that they might not be able to rescue people who refused to evacuate and became stranded.
The floods came as part of a massive storm system, referred to by some as a “bomb cyclone,” that pounded the Rocky Mountains, northern Plains and Upper Midwest this week. Crews evacuated residents from floodwaters in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and closed swamped roads in western Illinois. To the north and west, heavy snow was a greater concern, with highways and schools closed in parts of South Dakota, North Dakota and western Nebraska. Conditions were so poor in parts of South Dakota that snow plows were ordered off the roads around midday Thursday.