Mississippi Mystery

         Though not at the levels it was in 1993, the current flooding along the Mississippi, expected to crest next week, is the second time that America's greatest river has hit record levels in less than a decade. In 1993, it flooded 17 million acres -- an area three times the size of Israel. In Noah's time it might have seemed like the whole world was inundated. The last time the Mississippi hit such a crest it was followed by a series of record storms -- and then the earthquake in Los Angeles. While in all likelihood the river itself won't present itself with the same force as in 1993, other events grouped with it might. From 1991 to 1996 -- the period that had this flood as a centerpieces -- the number of severe storms jumped from 6,500 to 9,200 and reports of large hail tripled. In Texas hailstones came crashing through windows. In Niagara Falls an entire neighborhood had to replace roofs. It was like the storms reported at the end of the Roman Empire -- when hail was described as the size of "pullet's (chicken) eggs." And while the tornado season has started out slowly, there will be unusual sporadic outbursts. In Australia recent hail has been the size of rock melons -- and has swept in with no warning. The only consistency to patterns is that they will consistently swerve -- with extremes like those we see now as Florida thirsts for water and the Midwest rushes to halt floods along the mysterious Mississippi (which, coincidentally, the French explorers had original called "the River of the Immaculate Conception").

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