July 9th marks the day the Mississippi River hit its record crest back in 1993. 25 years ago the Mississippi River reached 22.63 feet and brought devastation to much of the riverfront in the Quad Cities. Rain fell over the period of several months with some areas seeing more than 20 to 30 inches.
“I don’t remember anything really much before ’93 because I was too young but it’s funny how ’93 was the benchmark of the worst. Everything we have done since then is to improve it,” said Justin Weber, a Joslin Farmer.
For many, including Weber, who was 14 at the time, and his family, the summer of 1993 is not easily forgotten.
Justin Weber, Joslin Farmer “I remember my dad telling me how it sounded like a freight train when the dike broke. It didn’t take long and the water was covering everything.”
25 years ago torrential rainfall and snow melt brought the Great Flood. One of the worst disasters the Mississippi Valley has ever seen. Ray Wolf of the National Weather Service wasn’t working in the Quad Cities at the time, but he still remembers what became one of the biggest weather stories of the summer.
“It covered 9 states and went on for the better part of 5 months and that’s pretty unprecedented,” said Wolf.
Video pulled from the WHBF archives shows the sweeping damage this massive amount of water caused. ’93 still holds the record for the highest level the Mississippi River has ever reached in the Quad Cities. But for the Webers, it was the Rock River next to their farm that they were battling.
“The water level was as deep as the top of the corn right now,” said Weber.
Flood waters completely covered the farm and surrounded the homestead which sits higher off the ground. One iconic photo of their farm was on the front page of Farmweek and Bill Clinton even signed a copy on his visit to those hit hard by the flood.
“You go through that and it makes you appreciate the good years,” said Weber.
In 1993, much of John O’Donnell Stadium was under water at the time but now Modern Woodman Park is one of the many facilities utilizing modern technology like flood walls to protect against future events.
“It was a great learning experience for all involved,” said Wolf.
Two and a half decades later, structures like the flood wall at Modern Woodman have now become a normal way of life for River Bandits fans. But for Weber and his family, they still take it year by year and day by day.
“Everything we have done since then has been to improve it,” said Weber.
According to Weber, the risk the Rock River poses is well worth the benefits from the rich soil it produces. So they manage that risk by utilizing technology and ag science of their own. Pumps push water back into the river at high rates but mostly they rely on good old fashioned landscape engineering.
“Improve the farm, improve the drainage, improve all these things so that those types of things don’t happen again,” said Weber.
The odds that a flood of this caliber will happen again aren’t extremely high but local flooding as intense is within the realm of possibility. The good news? Better forecasting abilities, technological advancements, and greater awareness of the power of the Mighty Mississippi has us more prepared.
“I think we are much more well placed today to deal with a potential ’93 or worse than we were back in that day,” said Wolf.
“It gives us a better chance to continue to have a good crop and prevent any flooding,” said Weber.
The highest flood since 1993 was in 2001 when the Mississippi River reached 22.33 feet. Even then the damage was not as severe which goes to show how technology will continue to help when rivers rise.