It has been a wet spring along the Mississippi River, and many areas have had records broken, both for lengths of flooding, and for the height of flooding. From what I can gather, not being an expert on hydrology or the Mississippi River in general, the best comparisons to this year are the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, and the Great Mississippi Flood of 1993. The difference is, of course, that after the 1927 flood, (and because of the 1927 flood), the United States built many levees and flood abatement projects along the Mississippi River.
Ever since the "bomb cyclone" event in March, which started the rivers at an early high level, every thunderstorm and shower or early snowmelt has added to the toll of high water. Barges couldn't move. Farmers had to wait to plant on sodden ground. There were a series of contextless pictures in the media of houses perched above spreading brown flood waters. But as much as the water was inconvenient, troublesome, at times frightening, it never became a disaster. Along hundreds of miles of water front, the levees held.
The sentence "If it keeps on raining, the levee is going to break", first written by Memphis Minnie, during the 1927 floods, is in the first conditional. It is about an expected cause and an expected effect. It is something that is immediately foreseeable. And, of course, the sky did keep raining, and the levees did break. The physical levees broke, and they caused social levees to break as well: the flooding of the Mississippi caused the African-American population of Mississippi to move north to Chicago, ushering in the Great Migration northwards. Eventually, something had to change.
And what do I see now? I see the rain falling down, an endless assortment of pictures of levies near the breaking point, the water lapping higher and higher...without ever actually topping. A few downtowns get flooded, alerts go out, a hurricane, again, comes close to New Orleans. And then...it keeps on raining, in a desultory fashion, even the stories of lost lives and destroyed homes have something desultory about them. Things lie in a state of suspended consequences, as that water edges higher and higher, without ever actually going over the top of the levy.
The laws of causality have not ceased to be a thing. As weird as this surreal buffer zone is, eventually the link between cause and effect will take hold. Complex systems can sometimes mitigate damage. Sometimes a catastrophe isn't as dramatic and theatrical as we might assume it will be. But eventually, the change does take hold. If it keeps on raining, and it will continue to rain, the levy will break. I do not know when or how, but the levee will break.