Springtime brings about certain memories for individuals on the Mississippi River. For most it is a time to get out and enjoy the sun after a gloomy and cold winter. However, for businesses and citizens who live near the river, it is a time of concern and worry over what's left of winter: snowmelt up north. Historic floods on the Mississippi are a dime a dozen from its northern-most gauge to the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico.  In the Quad Cities that straddles the river on both sides in Iowa and Illinois where the river runs east and west, a particularly heavy snowpack to the north was the main focus of concern in 2019. Locations such as Minneapolis saw over six feet of snow. Many areas in northern Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin saw snowfall continue well into April as well. Farther south in eastern Iowa, western Illinois, and northeast Missouri, heavy rainfall pounded the region at the same time. This combined with the all too typical seasonal mood swings of nature made a particularly dangerous situation starting from the end of March.[1]

At the river gauge at Rock Island’s Locks and Dam 15, this was measured by consistent flooding for over two months. In fact, the Corps of Engineers reported a total of three separate crests between 8 APR and 1 JUN. All three of these crests ranked in the top ten all time crests for the river at that location.

The first crest occurred on 8 APR and measured at 20.68 feet followed by a brief receding of the river. The rapid increase was caused by a few heavy rain events and additional snowmelt to the north which occurred rapidly over a couple of weeks. By 30 APR, the river had inched its way to the second highest level ever seen, just shy of the 1993 record of 22.63 feet. That same day, HESCO barriers placed in Davenport suffered a structural failure. At 1554, the National Weather Service and city officials issued an emergency evacuation of the downtown area of Davenport. Six minutes later the barrier burst, flooding two streets worth of businesses and shutting down access to Arsenal Island via the Government Bridge.[2]

Just days later on 2 MAY, an amended forecast for the river was made which forecast record breaking river levels. The river had reached 22.7 feet early in the morning on Wednesday and had fallen slightly back to 22.6 feet by 0600.[3] This trend continued until the river rose again cresting at 21.68 feet on 1 JUN. A dry spell gripped the area shortly after, allowing the river to finally fall below flood stage in late June.

The impacts on Rock Island Arsenal had largely been mitigated by utilizing the flood prevention plan drafted after the flood of 1993, which had in turn used planning from a flood in 1965. Water had made its way onto the island in a few locations but caused no major damage. In the neighboring city of Davenport, however, water had destroyed numerous businesses and caused millions of dollars' worth of material loss. So great was the destruction, that some buildings were still vacant as of three years later, largely due to the extent of damage coupled with impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.


[1] Climate Prediction Center. “2018-2019 Water Season: Snowfall.”

[2] National Weather Service. “Flash Flood Emergency, FFW.005.” NWS Bulletin. Davenport, Iowa. 30 APR 2019.

[3] National Weather Service. “Flood Warning, FLW.064.” NWS Bulletin. Davenport, Iowa. 3 MAY 2019.

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