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Floodwaters in Iowa in March, at the beginning of this spring's flooding. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

A tense situation is unfolding in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where officials are hoping that 70-year-old levees will withstand an unprecedented, prolonged test to keep back the swollen Arkansas River, which has risen to an all-time record high after weeks of heavy rain.

Why it matters: The flooding that has gripped the nation's heartland will eventually affect the price of food, as farmers cope with fields that have turned into lakes at a time of year when staple crops such as corn and wheat should be planted already. In addition, the damage from the floods, which started in the Upper Midwest earlier this year and now stretch all the way down the Mississippi River, likely exceeds $1 billion in individual states alone, with a far higher aggregate cost.

Details: Massive thunderstorms have dumped torrential rains in Oklahoma, Kansas and surrounding states during the past two weeks, sending the Arkansas River in western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma to its highest level on record.

In Fort Smith, Arkansas, on Tuesday morning, the river rose to 2 feet above its previous all-time high. The forecast crest is not predicted to occur until Wednesday evening, after the river rises another 2 feet.

  • All-time record crests are predicted from Fort Smith southward to near Little Rock.
  • In Tulsa, additional rain on Tuesday could force officials to release more water from the Keystone Dam or risk water levels overtopping the floodgates, which could be catastrophic, the Tulsa World reports.
  • Tulsa's levees are being tested in ways that may become more common with global warming, as heavy rains and floods increase in frequency.
  • "This is the culmination of a flood that is now in its fourth week," David Williams, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Tulsa, told the newspaper.
  • In Oklahoma, flooding cut off all roadways into the town of Braggs in Muskogee County Tuesday — turning the town into an island, the New York Times noted.

The impact: Floodwaters are slowly making their way down the Mississippi River toward Louisiana, rattling nerves and setting records.

  • Officials announced Monday they will open the Morganza Spillway in Louisiana for only the third time since it was built in 1954. The river is expected to crest there by June 2 at the second-highest level on record.
  • "The current flood fight is historic and unprecedented," the Corps said in a statement, noting that this year's Mississippi River floods are likely to become the longest such event on record, beating a 1973 flood that lasted 225 days.

The background: "In the Southern Plains, Oklahoma has far and away been the poster child for this event," Victor Murphy of the National Weather Service tells Axios. "By the time May 31st rolls around, we fully expect May of 2019 to surpass October 1941 as the 2nd wettest month on record for Oklahoma, behind only May 2015." 

According to Murphy, many counties along and north of I-44 from Oklahoma to the Missouri border have seen at least 16 to 19 inches of rain for the month, with more to come. "These 30 day values are on the order of 1-in-50-year to 1-in-100-year events," he says.

A tweet previously embedded here has been deleted or was tweeted from an account that has been suspended or deleted.

Between the lines: The ongoing flooding is consistent with scientific studies showing the increasingly apparent effects of human-caused climate change. A warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor on average, which contributes to an uptick in heavy precipitation events. Such trends have been seen in much of the U.S. in recent decades.

  • In addition, other research shows ties between persistent, highly amplified weather patterns such as this one and long-term climate change.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Cuomo asks New York AG and chief judge to choose "independent" investigator into sexual harassment claims

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo at a press conference on Feb. 24. Photo: Seth Wenig/pool/AFP via Getty Images

A special counselor to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo released a statement Sunday asking the state's attorney general and chief judge to jointly pick an "independent and qualified lawyer in private practice without political affiliation" to investigate claims of sexual harassment against the governor. The AG's office subsequently turned down the offer, saying it wants to conduct its own probe.

The state of play: The statement is an about-face from Cuomo, who had previously selected a former judge close to a top aide to lead the investigation, the New York Times reported, a move that was widely criticized.

Republican Sen. Sasse slams Nebraska GOP for "weird worship" of Trump after state party rebuke

Sen. Ben Sasse, (R-Neb.) Photo: Andrew Harnik - Pool/Getty Images

The Nebraska Republican Party on Saturday formally "rebuked" Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) for his vote to impeach former President Trump earlier this year, though it stopped short of a formal censure, CNN reports.

Why it matters: Sasse is the latest among a slate of Republicans who have faced some sort of punishment from their state party apparatus after voting to impeach the former president. The senator responded statement Saturday, per the Omaha World-Herald, saying "most Nebraskans don't think politics should be about the weird worship of one dude."

Cuomo barraged by fellow Dems after second harassment accusation

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo faced a barrage of criticism from fellow Democrats after The New York Times reported that the second former aide in four days had accused him of sexual harassment.

Why it matters: Cuomo had faced a revolt from legislators for his handling of nursing-home deaths from COVID. Now, the scandal is acutely personal, with obviously grave political risk.

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