Flooding in Des Moines

Des Moines purchases 78 flood-damaged homes for $10.5 million Moines Register,Published on: January 10th, 2019

No mandatory flood evacuations in Johnson County Gazette ,Published on: October 11th, 2018

Drier forecast reduces flood risk on UI campus Now,Published on: October 11th, 2018

‘It’s not normal’: Iowa City holding up despite heavy rainfall City Press Citizen,Published on: October 8th, 2018
Floodwaters in Eastern Iowa

Rare Fall Flooding Swamps Iowa

Normally, late August and early September are fairly dry in Iowa. Just how rare is the heavy rainfall that’s fallen across Iowa over the past 10 days?

To answer that question, Professor Gabriele Villarini, a faculty affiliate of the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa, worked with Assistant Research Scientist Wei Zhang to provide some context for the current rainfall situation. Zhang and Villarini are both part of IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering, where Villarini serves as director. He says that the extremely heavy precipitation is indeed unusual, as seen in the graphic (above) that covers the period between August 24 (when the rain started) and Sept. 5. It is based on a gridded rain gauge product.

Four maps of the upper Midwest showing recent rainfall using colors from blue to red.Here is Villarini’s interpretation of the graphics and the soggy story they tell:

  • Top-left panel: This panel displays historic average precipitation for August 24–Sept. 5 during the 1981–2010 period. This 30-year period is generally used to frame recent events in a longer-term climatological period. Take home: We would expect on average about 2 inches of rainfall or less in Iowa during this time period.
  • Bottom-left panel: This graphic displays the current observed precipitation in 2018. Take home: The current rainfall is much more than we would expect for this time of the year; some areas of eastern Iowa have values on the order of 8–10 inches.
  • Top-right panel: This panel shows the ranking of 2018 precipitation during this period with respect to the 1948–2018 period. The redder areas represent rainfall extremes, with values of “1” indicating that this year was the highest since 1948. Take home: The current rainfall is the largest on record (since 1948) in large areas of central and eastern Iowa.
  • Bottom-right panel: For the locations where precipitation this year was the greatest on record, we show how much greater the rainfall has been this year than the next largest year. For instance, a value of 80% indicates that this year was 80% larger than the second largest year on record. Take home: The rainfall this year is extreme, in some areas up to 80% larger than the second largest year.

For more information, visit the Iowa Flood Information System.

A map showing flood levels in Rock Valley, Iowa.

June Flooding Slams Iowa

Get Flood Updates on the Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS)

Three people in a boat paddle down a street-turned-river in Rock Valley, Iowa.

Rock Valley previously experienced flooding as recently as 2014.

Flooding slammed Iowa again this week, in what has become an all-too-familiar situation. Heavy rainfall in Northwest Iowa has forced evacuation of homes and businesses in Rock Valley and raised stream levels throughout the region. Significant rain fell over the Iowa Great Lakes region on Sunday, raising stream levels on the Des Moines River to moderate flood stage near Estherville on Monday.

Central Iowa, too, is experiencing flooding. According to The Des Moines Register, the Saylorville Lake beach and other recreation areas will likely be closed over the upcoming July 4 holiday because of rising water levels. Officials expect the Saylorville Reservoir to approach its limit next week.

Rain continues in Central Iowa. Some areas of Polk County received up to five inches of rain Monday and early Tuesday.

The Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa provides 24/7, up-to-the-minute information on current flood conditions on the Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS), which is available to the public online. IFIS provides current stream levels, flood alerts and forecasts, inundation maps for many river communities, and more.