The Lower Mississippi River has experienced a cluster of extreme floods during the past two decades. The Bonnet Carré spillway, which is located on the Mississippi River immediately upstream of New Orleans, has been operated 15 times since its completion in 1931, with 7 occurrences after 2008. In this study, we examine rainfall and atmospheric water balance components associated with Lower Mississippi River flooding in 2008, 2011, and 2015–19. We focus on multiple time scales—1, 3, 7, and 14 days—reflecting contributions from individual storm systems and the aggregate contributions from a sequence of storm systems. Atmospheric water balance variables—integrated water vapor flux (IVT) and precipitable water—are central to our assessment of the storm environment for Lower Mississippi flood events. We find anomalously large IVT corridors accompany the critical periods of heavy rainfall and are organized in southwest–northeast orientation over the Mississippi domain. Atmospheric rivers play an important role as agents of extremes in water vapor flux and rainfall. We conduct climatological analyses of IVT and precipitable water extremes across the four time scales using 40 years of North American Regional Reanalysis (NARR) fields from 1979 to 2018. We find significant increasing trends in both variables at all time scales. Increases in IVT especially cover large regions of the Mississippi domain. The findings point to increased vulnerability faced by the Mississippi flood control system in the current and future climate.
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