The Mississippi River reached a near record level of 47.85 feet in Memphis early on Tuesday morning (2am CDT). The river level is just short of the 48.7 feet recorded way back during the height of the devastating 1937 Memphis flood. The National Weather Service has said the swollen river is expected to stay near that level for about 24 to 36 hours, and will take weeks to recede.
Memphis authorities cautiously expected no serious flooding, and levees were expected to guard against major city flooding. However, hundreds of people were evacuated from low-lying neighborhoods. Famous city landmarks have been spared from the rising water, including Graceland, home of the late Elvis Presley.
Further south, Mississippi Delta residents were preparing for major flooding. Farmers were building levees and inmates from the largest prison in Louisiana were evacuated to high ground.
As you can see from the embedded images of the Mississippi River in 2011, compared to a year before under more typical conditions, this is a significant flood. Persistent spring rains fell in the Mississippi Basin this year.
In the top image in this post, you can see that at the junction of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, floods have engulfed farmland beside each river. On May 2, 2011, in an attempt to save Cairo from major flooding, U.S. Army engineers used explosives to breach a levee near the confluence of the two rivers. A 2 mile hole in the levee flooded 130,000 acres of farmland.
In the below images, you can see the extent of the swollen Mississippi River, from Cairo to Memphis and beyond. Again, the bottom image is the river under more typical conditions.
Images: NASA Earth Observatory