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The Great Flood of '93

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

By April 1st, 1993, Rock Islanders breathed a collective sigh of relief and began congratulating themselves. There was to be no Mississippi flood this year, and only mild rises on the Rock River and other tributaries. After 150 years of experience with floods, the Corps of Engineers had become experts at reading the signs. Past experience and sensitive instruments all along the drainage basin often let the Corps predict the coming river crest within inches, weeks ahead of time.

That spring of ’93, the signs were clear—light snow and a slow melt in Minnesota meant no flood. April came and went. Safe water. May came and went. The Mississippi behaved. Even torrential rains the last week of May caused little worry—June was nearly here, and the Mississippi never flooded during the summer.

But in June, a record 13.62 inches of rain fell steadily the whole month and beyond—38 straight days of rain. The Corps of Engineers revised the predicted crest upward nearly every day. The rain continued in July over nearly the entire Upper Mississippi drainage basin. On July 9th, the Mississippi crested at 22.63 feet at Davenport, eclipsing the previous record flood of 1965 by several inches. The Great Flood of ’93 was here.

The flood became a national media event, attracting a visit from President Clinton. Rains kept the Mississippi at flood stage until August 1st before it retreated into its banks, leaving behind a trail of mud and ruined homes.

By September, the towns were busy cleaning up and rebuilding. The Corps of Engineers set about repairing breached levees and refining its instruments and statistical charts for the next spring. The Mississippi had already taught them that fooling with Mother Nature is tricky business. After 1993, they discovered that she’s not particularly happy about being second-guessed either.

Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Humanities Council and Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, with additional funding from Humanities Iowa, the Iowa Arts Council, and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.