With last year’s extended flood season still fresh in many minds around Monroe County and extended repeated winter and early spring rainfalls across the region, many are fearing a repeat for 2020.
Two months ago, federal authorities with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in St. Louis and National Weather Service were concerned about the spring flood prospects this year.
With the long duration of flooding last year and the fact the Mississippi River reached its second highest level since the record in 1993, it is understandable there have been worries across the readership area.
The river reached 49.58 feet in St. Louis in 1993 – almost 20 feet above flood stage.
A lot of concern in the area has stemmed from repeated periods of heavy rain here. But readers are reminded that major flooding is based much more on precipitation across the broad Missouri and Mississippi river valleys that drain most of the north central part of the United States and parts of Canada than what just falls here.
Army Corps of Engineers Emergency Management Specialist Cathy Van Arsdale recently spoke to the Republic-Times from the Army Corps Service Base at the foot of Arsenal Street on the Mississippi River during the ongoing coronavirus shutdown of the organization’s St. Louis headquarters.
Van Arsdale said flood prospects, based on snowpack to the north and ongoing precipitation further south, were higher in January and February, but have moderated in recent weeks.
“We are looking at minor to moderate flooding with the conditions we are seeing now,” she said. “Most of the snowpack up north has melted and flowed south.”
She characterized elevations of the Missouri and Illinois rivers, major contributors to the flow past Monroe County, as moderate, with the Mississippi River being higher than normal.
“But,” she cautioned, “spring rains remain unpredictable.”
The latter weather can result in localized dangerous flooding of smaller tributaries flowing into major rivers. Thus, authorities caution people not to drive into water flowing across roads in these situations.
“Spring flooding is relatively normal around here,” she said. “We are and will continue to monitor what is going on. But we are not expecting a repeat of 2019.”
National Weather Service meteorologist John Carney agreed with that prediction.
“All the major rivers are flowing at somewhat above normal rates and elevations,” he said. “And the snow that remains north of Duluth (Minnesota) contains about four inches of water still to come down from melting.”
Carney also noted that unlike this area, there are regions up north and west experiencing below normal precipitation, which in turn is contributing to more favorable flooding prospects downstream.
Citing both the Mississippi and Missouri rivers as having moderate to low prospects for flooding this year, he concluded that “it sure looks a lot better now than it did in January and February.”
Monroe County Public Safety Coordinator Kevin Scheibe said he too is seeing a stream of data that points to low to moderate potential flooding.
He confirmed the snowpack up north is not the threat it was last year and the Missouri River is not at an extreme flow as it was in 2019.
“We are always preparing,” Scheibe said, “but we don’t think we will experience anywhere near what we went through last year. Of course, we can’t predict local rainfall and that can cause localized problems.”
He said Monroe County is well prepared in case of flooding.
“We currently have more than 14,000 filled sandbags – ready to move wherever they might be needed – and another 20,000-plus empty sandbags in storage ready to be filled and moved into action. We have 10 tons of sand and county engineer Aaron Metzger can get a lot more very quickly,” he added.
The area has endured repeated precipitation for weeks this spring, with some relief arriving over the past week. But memories of the extended high flooding of last year still weigh heavily in many people’s minds.
Prospects for a better – at least non-flooding – spring are considerably brighter.
On Tuesday, the morning Mississippi River elevation in St. Louis was at 27.43 feet and slowly dropping. Moderate flood stage is designated at 30 feet.
That’s not insignificant.
For “amaze and wow,” it translates to 452,160 cubic feet – or 3,391,000 gallons – of water flowing past St. Louis every second.