A hard winter hit the country's midsection this year - blizzards plastered the Plains, building up a large snowpack. When the snow melts quickly, especially when the ground is still frozen and can't absorb water, dangerous high waters from river basins like the Missouri River may follow. Hi, I'm Dave Thurlow and this is The Weather Notebook.
As correspondent Curt Nickish tells us today, before dams were built on the Missouri River, floods wreaked havoc. He files this report.
Curt: This river, made famous by explorers Lewis and Clark, is the nation's second longest, flowing 2300 miles from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. In South Dakota, where Dorothy Finch was born in 1909, spring melts brought frequent flooding.
FINCH: They were very bad generally every year. My father often went to work in a row boat.
Finch grew up in Fort Pierre, South Dakota, which is at the confluence of the Bad and Missouri Rivers. In this archived recording from 1977, she says the floods came on quickly.
FINCH: I can remember another time when dad was out of town and we got flood warning on the old crank telephone in the middle of the night. We packed up what we could find. My brother was very small. We took my brother in the baby buggy, and some belongings that she needed, I took the buggy and she took the wheelbarrow with our clothing. And we hunted for dry land.
During World War II, similar floods hampered the war effort by interrupting barge traffic and blocking the railroads crossing the crucial waterway. Enough was enough, says University of South Dakota history professor Herbert Hoover.
HOOVER: Congress passed the Flood Control Act in 1944 and by 1966 we had six big roll-dearth dams in place, and that's done so much for us in this state - for one thing it was the first permanent set of bridges across the Missouri River that wasn't going to get torn up by ice jams and floods and the railroads were safe, and it created big lakes and stimulated tourism.
But the dams disturbed the river's natural flow. Today environmentalists and the barge industry are working on a compromise management plan. It would let the river flow more freely especially in years like this with a large snowpack and high flood danger - but still keep the powerful water in check.
That's correspondent Curt Nickish of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The Weather Notebook is supported generously by the National Science Foundation and Subaru. To find out more, log onto weathernotebook.org.