Spring is traditionally a time of flooding within the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area corridor. As the snow and ice of the lengthy Upper Midwestern winter begins to melt, the water cannot permeate the still-frozen ground and instead runs rapidly off the land, swelling the Mississippi and its tributaries, at times over their banks. While the flood cycle is critical to the natural health of any flood-plain ecosystem -- clearing accumulated deadwood and brush from the river banks, creating short-term hatching and feeding areas for fish and other river-dwellers, and maintaining the high fertility of the lowlands through the deposit of moisture and sediments -- for river communities it turns the river from a resource into a formidable foe of the agriculture, industry and people concentrated around it.
A timetable of the 1952 flood:
- April 6th - 9th: The rainy culmination of a year of unusually wet weather creates the conditions for the flood. Hundreds of acres of farmland upriver are already underwater. St. Paul nervously watches as the Mississippi approaches flood stage (14 ft.) downtown, finally overflowing its banks on April 9th. Spectators from around the Midwest watch water levels rise at the rate of one inch per hour under downtown's Robert Street Bridge.
- April 12th: The entire Upper Levee neighborhood and large portions of the Lower West Side are evacuated, leaving approximately 2,641 families temporarily homeless. The Red Cross leads the relief effort.
- April 13th: Raging along at 20.4 feet, the Mississippi shatters its previous flood stage record of 19.7 ft., set in 1881. The river continues to rise.
- April 14th: Floodwaters dislodge two concrete panels at St. Anthony Falls Dam in Minneapolis revealing the natural escarpment for the first time in decades. While most of the nation attentively monitors a mammoth strike in the steel industry and a threatened national walk-out by phone utility workers, St. Paul is occupied with attempts to keep industry and commerce dry.
- April 15th: Every lowland dwelling from Fort Snelling to Inver Grove is under water. Lilydale, Chaska, and Mendota seriously inundated.
- April 17th: The Mississippi finally national governments debate flood prevention reform.
- Early May: In the midst of a record heat wave, the return of the Mississippi to its banks is hardly noticed.