Substantial Impacts on Midwest from Heavy Rains and Severe Weather, Illinois State Water Survey

Press Release

For Immediate Release May 10, 2002
Substantial Impacts on Midwest from Heavy Rains and Severe Weather


Steve Hilberg - (217) 333-8495, Fax (217) 244-0220,
Jim Angel - (217) 333-0729, Fax: (217) 244-0220,
Michael Palecki - (217) 333-8506, Fax (217) 244-0220,
Eva Kingston - (217) 244-7270, Fax: (217) 333-6540,
The Midwest has received more than double the normal amount of precipitation in the last month in the northern Great Lakes region and in a zone including most of Missouri, southern Illinois, and southern Indiana. Damaging flooding occurred earlier in northern Wisconsin and Michigan, and now many fields are under water in the southern Midwest, says Steve Hilberg, Director of the Midwestern Regional Climate Center (MRCC) at the Illinois State Water Survey (, a division of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Figure 1.  Precipitation (inches) - April 11 - May 9, 2002.  This graphic shows that precipitation varied from 3 to 9 inches around the lake Michigan area during this time.
Figure 1. Precipitation (inches),
April 11 - May 9, 2002.

(Click to Enlarge Image)

From April 11 to May 9, precipitation totals exceeded 8 inches generally (Figure 1) and 12 inches in some of the worst hit areas. Mattoon in southeastern Illinois received 12.32 inches (302% of normal); Mitchell in south-central Indiana received 12.20 inches (265% of normal); and Blue Lick in northwestern Missouri received 12.87 inches (315% of normal). Some locations with incomplete records or no observation stations received even more than these stations. Unofficial estimates in Sangamon County, Illinois, on April 21 indicated up to 4 inches of rain fell in 30 minutes, an event that would be expected to occur less than once in 100 years.

Michael Palecki, MRCC Climatologist said that, While most individual storm totals have not been all that unusual, heavy rain-producing systems have crossed the same regions repeatedly due to a persistent west-east storm track. The battle ground between warm moist air to the south and cooler drier air to the north has draped across the southern Midwest for weeks.

After heavy rains in May, flooding is widespread in Missouri, southern Illinois and southern Indiana. The South Fork of the Sangamon River in Rochester, Illinois, is more than 10 feet above flood stage, and 24 river gaging stations in the southern Midwest report levels more than 5 feet above flood stage, including large sections of the Ohio, Mississippi, and Missouri Rivers.

Figure 2.  Precipitation (percent of normal) - April 11 - May 9, 2002.  This graphic shows that precipitation varied from 100% to 250% of normal around the lake Michigan area during this time.
Figure 2. Precipitation (percent of normal),
April 11 - May 9, 2002.

(Click to Enlarge Image)

Northern Wisconsin and Michigan received less total rain than areas to the south, but as a percentage of normal, the amounts were unusually heavy (Figure 2). The snow pack on April 11 ranged from 6 to 12 inches in northern Wisconsin and 1 to 2 feet in northern Michigan. Temperatures rose to the 70°F and even 80°F range, resulting in rapid snow melt. Streams were already bankfull from the snow melt when heavy rains arrived, triggering widespread flooding that was made worse by further rain events through the last 30 days. Gogebic County in Michigan was especially hard hit, and was declared a state disaster area in mid-April.

Impacts of the persistent storms in the southern Midwest have been substantial. Thousands of acres of farmland are under water, while entire sections of Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana are too wet to till and plant. Concerns are especially urgent for corn, which needs to be planted soon to avoid the dangers of the mid-summer heat coming during the fertilization stage. More directly, outbreaks of severe weather have exacted a substantial toll of damage, death, and injury.

According to Illinois State Climatologist Jim Angel, Illinois was fortunate not to have any tornado-related deaths in the last two years, but now we have had single tornado-related deaths on April 21 in Wayne County, on April 28 in Union County, and two deaths on May 8 in Centralia. All the deaths and many accompanying injuries occurred in mobile homes or mobile home parks. The best defense against tornadoes is to stay informed about approaching severe weather by listening to Weather Radio, commercial radio, and television, and then taking appropriate actions. Angel says deaths also occurred in Missouri and Kentucky during the April 28 storms.

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