acquired March 10, 2015 - March 23, 2020
acquired January 1, 2019 - March 30, 2020
- Landsat 8 - OLI
- Data Date: March 10, 2015 - March 23, 2020
- Visualization Date: March 31, 2020
With the arrival of the spring flood season, millions of Americans living near rivers in the Midwest and Great Plains will be warily watching the weather. In parts of South Dakota, however, last year’s flood season never really ended.
While federal forecasters do not expect flooding in 2020 to be as severe or prolonged as during record-breaking 2019 floods, they do predict major to moderate floods in 23 states, especially North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota.
With many parts of these states coming off their wettest years on record, soils are already saturated. In South Dakota in 2019, many areas received about twice the average amount of precipitation. Rain and snowfall have been so relentless that at least one river has been stuck at flood stage for more than a year.
On March 23, 2020, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 captured an image showing high water levels on the James River, a tributary of the Missouri River in eastern South Dakota. For comparison, the second Landsat image shows the same area during a more typical spring in March 2015. In this false-color view (bands 6-5-4), ice appears light blue. Open water is dark blue.
At streamflow gages at Columbia and Stratford, water levels have been at or above flood stage since April 2019, according to data from the U.S. Geological Survey (shown above). Prolonged flooding has occurred at four other stations on the James River as well, according to the Missouri Basin River Forecast Center.
“The river levels never fell in the winter because the ground was fully saturated when it froze last fall,” explained Amy Parkin, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Aberdeen, South Dakota. “As the snow and river ice melted over the past few weeks, the water had nowhere to go.”
The unusually flat terrain in the area has also contributed to the length of the flood. The elevation along the James River only drops 100 feet (30 meters) from the North Dakota border to the Nebraska border, noted Parkin. “The riverbanks are fairly low, and the water does not flow quickly. When there is a strong south wind, we have actually seen the river flow north.”
NASA’s Earth Applied Sciences Disasters Program plays a role in improving the predictions of and responses to disasters and natural hazards. While NASA is a research organization and not an official first responder to natural disasters
like NOAA, USGS, or FEMA, it does have specialized satellites, airplanes, and researchers that can provide unique observations to assess flood impacts. Click here to learn more about some of the unique tools and datasets that NASA provides to aid with flood response.
- Abderdeen News (2020, February 16)
South Dakota flood outlook: James River likely to see no relief. Accessed March 30, 2020.
- NASA Earth Sciences Disasters Program NOAA & NASA Prepare for the 2020 U.S. Flood Season
Accessed March 30, 2020.
- NASA Earth Sciences Disasters Program U.S. Flood Dashboard. Accessed March 30, 2020.
- National Weather Service (2020, March 12) 2020 Spring Flood Outlook. Accessed March 30, 2020.
- National Weather Service (2020, March 30) James River Near Columbia. Accessed March 30, 2020.
- NOAA (2020, March 19) U.S. Spring Outlook forecasts another year of widespread river flooding. Accessed March 30, 2020.
- The Weather Channel (2020, January 29) Flooding on South Dakota River Persists Nearly a Year After It Began. Accessed March 30, 2020.
- Weather Underground (2020, March 20) Another Spring of Flood Concerns Looming for Midwest. Accessed March 30, 2020.