Mississippi River Flooding: A Sobering Reminder Of Rising Water Levels In Our Future

The Upper Mississippi River is flooding. The crest or high water stage for La Crosse, WI is supposed to be between now and 4/29/23. Major flooding is expected according to the National Weather Service. The banks of the river have already overflowed with water, reaching a height classified as major flooding. Photos are starting to appear on social media where the river has encroached on the usually dry land.

Riverside Park, La Crosse WI. Photo used with permission by C. Tippets, 2023.

La Crosse is a charming, small-sized city, located on the banks of the Mississippi River. Roughly 60,000 people live there with thousands more living along the river in smaller communities. Riverside Park is a large community green space in La Crosse’s downtown. It abuts the river. There’s a long riverwalk where boats can dock – even the large paddle-wheeler-type ships such as the American Queen have docked here.

On a typical spring day, like the one when I was there last April, people can be seen walking their dogs, running, sitting on benches, and taking leisurely strolls during the golden hour. If you hang around long enough, you can see the barge traffic start to resume pushing loads of grain and other supplies to their final destinations. If you are there on the “right” nights in the summer, there are band concerts and festivals to attend within the confines of the park.

It sure is a beautiful spot. But right now, it’s flooded and probably will get worse before it gets better.

Riverside Park on the Mississippi River in La Crosse, WI. Photo used with Permission by C. Tippetts, 2023.

La Crosse and the surrounding river towns have been through this before. We’ve lived here 24 and seen the park flooded more than once. It’s scary to see the water take on aggressive encroachment – but it has no choice! The river has to go somewhere when it swells.

People pull together and help those in need. It is a gracious community when it comes to emergencies like this. Still, there is only so much that can be done. Water is powerful and will find a way when it needs to – it’ll run over, covering the land as it goes, and doesn’t recede until the conditions allow it to.

Mississippi River overflowing its banks in Riverside Park, La Crosse, WI. Photo used with permission by C. Tippetts, 2023.

What can we expect? There have been record snowfalls this winter. Snow melts into water and runs into the streams and smaller tributaries upriver – these places are flooding too.

Luckily, despite living near this historic river, we’ve never been affected by the river or floods. But thousands have been and will continue to be as waters all over the Earth rise with the melting of glaciers and climate change.

“The river is expected to be the highest it has been in over 20 years (since 2001)” – National Weather Service. Mississippi River Spring Flood 2023

High water Marker in La Crosse Wisconsin at Riverside Park. Photo Used with Permission by C. Tippetts, 2023.

It is expected that some areas will crest higher than many of the past records. Flooding has become more common as the storms we receive are wilder, harsher, and faster, bringing a deluge of water in a matter of hours. We’ve noticed a difference in the last quarter-century.

The worrisome thing about the flooding taking place now is that there are spring storms yet to come that will surely bring more rain and add to the high water, sodden earth, and precarious conditions for those who live near the river banks.

The historical high record for water at LaCrosse is 17.89 feet in 1965 according to the National Weather Service. The latest level, recorded this morning on 4/26/23, is 16.89 feet. The flood stage is 12 feet, according to the National Weather Service website. A major flood stage is considered to be when the water reaches 15 feet. La Crosse is beyond that now.

For more specific scientific data, what, and why we can expect more flooding in the future can be found here: https://www.nrdc.org/stories/great-lakes-levels-are-rising-sign-things-come.

Riverside Park, La Crosse WI. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2018.

This piece will be posted to my Medium.com site as well, later today. I hope those I know in the La Crosse area will stay safe and that any flooding of their homes will be minimal. We can only hope for the best.

A special thank you to my friend, Christine Tippetts, who allowed me to use the photographs of Riverside Park she took yesterday. 4.25.2023.

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