Photo from the Missouri River Flood

Date: 1952


Description: The Mighty MO, the Missouri River, has been Sioux City’s lifeline since its inception. Missouri floods are quite different than the floods from the Floyd River. The Floyd floods more often but is a quick-flooding river; the waters rise very quickly and then recede usually within that same day. The Missouri does not follow this trend. It floods less often because it is so large and thus more rainfall and snowmelt to swell. The Missouri River’s drainage basin covers a whopping 529,400 square miles, or nearly 17% of the land area of the continental United States, about half of which drains through Sioux City. When the river does swell to a flood, the waters take time to rise and time to recede, and areas can be covered for weeks to months. The river also floods a much larger area, as the river system is the third longest in the world.


For Sioux City, the major Missouri floods have occurred in 1881, 1952, and 2011. This photo is from the 1952 flood, one of the worst Sioux City has ever had to deal with. The majority of the land seen is actually South Sioux City, Nebraska, which was much harder hit because of its lower elevation. On the left side of the river you can just see downtown Sioux City, with the old Gordon Drive running along the river and mostly underwater. Near the foreground the old Combination Bridge can be seen, and farther downstream is the railroad bridge. All of downtown Sioux City was flooded, putting some of the city’s major economic centers out of business. The water levels in Sioux City during this flood had risen to 441,000 cubic feet per second, the highest level before or since, and flooded over 600 blocks. Thousands were left homeless as property was swept away, and billions of dollars in property damages ensued. After the flood the city began to reinvest and rebuild itself, and all along the river dams, dikes, and new channels were put in place as part of major flood-control projects. When the flood came again in 2011 it was much less disastrous due to these control mechanisms.


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On display