Public Safety

River watchers already wary of spring flooding

Concern rising that swaths of Midwest will get hit again

Downtown Davenport’s Second Street is inundated May 1 with floodwaters after a levee along the Mississippi River gave way. Forecasters worry that rivers including the Mississippi could flood again this spring and again damage areas that have not recovered from last spring. (John Schultz/Quad-City Times)
Downtown Davenport’s Second Street is inundated May 1 with floodwaters after a levee along the Mississippi River gave way. Forecasters worry that rivers including the Mississippi could flood again this spring and again damage areas that have not recovered from last spring. (John Schultz/Quad-City Times)
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — After a year that has seen some of the worst flooding ever in parts of the Midwest, concern already is rising that this spring may bring more high water to places that still haven’t recovered.

Flooding ravaged much of the Missouri and Mississippi river basins and their tributaries earlier this year, reaching record levels and overwhelming levees in many places.

Eight months later, parts of the Missouri River are slightly above flood stage at a time of the year when river levels traditionally run low.

Conditions are only slightly better on the Mississippi River, which is just a couple of feet below flood stage at several towns from Burlington south to near St. Louis.

High river levels aren’t the only worry.

National Weather Service hydrologist Mark Fuchs cited two other factors: Soil already is extremely saturated in Wisconsin, Minnesota, the Dakotas and far northern Iowa — and the long-range winter forecast offers a strong possibility of wetter-than-normal weather.

“We’re worried about rivers in general, primarily the Missouri and Mississippi for the spring,” said Fuchs. “We’ll see how the winter plays out.”

Areas along the Missouri River including parts of eastern Nebraska and western Iowa were particularly ravaged in the early spring, damaging hundreds of homes and businesses.

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And now, with some of the land still under water, forecasters are concerned some it will freeze in place — prolonging the flooding effects into next year and again endangering farmers’ spring planting.

The Mississippi River reached near-record levels at several points, including the second-highest ever at St. Louis.

Both the Mississippi and Missouri rivers dipped below flood stage by early fall, “then they turned around and went right back up in October with more rain in both basins,” Fuchs said. “For both rivers, there really hasn’t been much chance to recover.”

Fuchs said soil moisture levels in many places to the north are at the 99th percentile for late fall.

“If you have rain, it’s supposed to go into the ground,” Fuchs said. “Well, there’s just not room in the soil to accept rainfall or snowmelt.”

Adding to the worry is the weather service’s December-February forecast, which shows a significant chance of above-normal precipitation in the upper Midwestern states — including about half of Iowa — that feed water into the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

But, according to the weather service’s Quad Cities office. “even a normal amount of precipitation this winter season could bring an elevated risk for flooding this upcoming spring.”

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