New aerial photography by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released Monday are providing a glimpse of the extent and severity of last week's devastating flooding along hundreds of miles of the Mississippi River and its tributaries.
Along those rivers, thousands of Americans rang in the New Year with their homes and businesses underwater after three days of unusual winter rainstorms sent the rivers over their banks.
The flooding, which crested as high as 47 feet in some spots, killed at least 31 people and caused billions of dollars in damage across several states. And its devastation continues as the water moves slowly downstream, inundating new towns and cities on its way to the Gulf of Mexico.
Part of what makes the recent Midwest flooding so unusual is the timing. The Mississippi River Valley typically gets most of its rain during the spring and summer when warm, moisture-rich air fuels wet weather. But this year's El Nino, in combination with climate change, increased fall temperatures and precipitation levels. So when 10 inches of rain fell in late December, the region's soils were already saturated and the water had nowhere to go but downstream.
NOAA began collecting the new aerial photographs January 2, focused in the area just north and south of St. Louis. The imagery will help federal, state and local officials understand the scope of the damage done by the floodwaters and manage their emergency response.
(Click images to enlarge.)