By: Tara Blue
Adapted from Boone County History and Culture Center’s “The Great Flood” exhibition
On the 30th anniversary of the Flood of 93’, we are reminded of the human ability to overcome in the face of natural disasters. Caused by a series of human-made and natural factors, including a chain of levee failures and torrential rain patterns, the record-breaking flood was both devastating and redemptive. The Southern Boone community rallied together as some residents’ livelihoods were swept away with the current.
The Missouri River was historically three times as wide and shallower than it is today. Beginning in the 1930’s, channels were dug in the river, and its flow was restricted to provide stable navigation, dependable hydropower, flood control, and irrigation. Dikes, levees, dams, and other structures were built to attempt to control the unpredictable waters. This caused the velocity of the river to be directed downward instead of being spread horizontally along the banks, which greatly deepened and strengthened the water flow.
In 1993, the prevailing westerly winds converged with the tropical winds from the south, causing a series of heavy precipitation events all around the central parts of the country. As dams failed upstream, the excess water cascaded downstream. The river remained above or near flood stage for over one hundred days, peaking in Jeff City at 38.65 feet on July 30th, and the uncertain rise and fall patterns rendered forecast modeling useless.
On July 12th, the river toppled two levees near Hartsburg as a wave of volunteers from all over Southern Boone were fortifying the town with sandbags. However, their efforts were no match for the power of the river. It arrived in Hartsburg on July 13th and affected a total of around 455,000 acres of farmland and caused an estimated $3 billion dollars in damage across Missouri (Columbia Missourian, 2013).
When the waters receded, the future management of the river was re-evaluated. Instead of restricting and controlling its flow, it was decided not to rebuild many of the levees. The Missouri Department of Conservation purchased much of the wetlands in the flood plains as wildlife habitat. Without levees narrowing and restricting the flow, flood water today has more space to dissipate.
The Boone County History and Culture Center at 3801 Ponderosa St. in Columbia currently features “The Great Flood” exhibition, which showcases a massive hand-painted mural depicting the height of the flood stages throughout July-August 1993, a Jon boat used to rescue residents and transport supplies, grand-scale aerial photographs of the 1993 floods, an aluminum boat that ferried members of the Hilgedick family when waters blocked them from driving to their Hartsburg home, archival video from local news stations, oars and hip boots from Preston Stogsdill, and a dozen enlarged newspaper articles sharing local stories. The exhibition is open to public viewing from now until Spring 2024.