More than two inches of rain in the metro-east during the last few days of January saved it from being the latest month to receive less than the average amount of precipitation in a drought that dates back to last summer.
"Had it not been for those last couple of days, we would have been down for the month," National Weather Service meteorologist Ben Miller said. "We were an inch and a half down for the two month period of December and January. We ended up about 3/4 of an inch up."
The average amount of precipitation for those months is 2.6 inches. The area ended up with 3.12 inches. Normally, by this time of winter the metro-east would have seen 10.7 inches of snow. So far the area has seen 3.1.
Also due to the rain, for the first time in months, the Mississippi River on Thursday reached its normal depth at St. Louis thanks to the added rain. Down as much as four feet below normal in recent weeks, the river threatened its all-time low of 6.2 feet below normal set in 1940.
By Friday morning the river had made it to 3.56 over normal depth. But it had begun to fall by midday. With no significant rainfall predicted in the next week, it should be back to average depth by Feb. 8.
"Unfortunately, it's only temporary relief," Miller said. "If we don't get repeated rain, we'll be right back where we were. We could be back at four feet below normal by the later part of February."
U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Colin Fogarty said the rain encouraged him that the river, which might have been closed to barge traffic had it reached record lows, will be able to remain open until the spring thaw adds some water into the system.
Fogarty said Friday that the Coast Guard will widen the Mississippi's navigation channel over a 150 mile stretch of the river from St. Louis to Cairo that had been narrowed by the lower water.
"With the river levels rising, the Coast Guard is widening the channel to allow towboat operators to safely push larger and deeper draft barges south of St. Louis," Fogarty said. "This is the first time since early November the navigable channel has been widened. This will permit the river industry to push loads of up to 30 barges, nearly double what they have been moving in the recent months.
Fogarty said it will take about 10 days to move the buoys to remark the channel.
Coast Guard Commander Rob McLellan said it is very possible the channel markers will have to be moved back before the winter ends.
"Low water is a long term problem that requires long term solutions," he said. "This effort to widen the channel is just one tactic in our arsenal to ensure commerce continues safely in the face of these historic low water conditions. This fight is long from over, but the Coast Guard stands alongside the Army Corps of Engineers and the River industry to ensure safe and efficient flow of river traffic."
One of the reasons the drought conditions have persisted is because of higher than normal temperatures. Miller said there is no reason to believe that weather pattern will end soon.
Miller said temperatures for the month of January were considerably higher than normal. The average mean temperature was 41.7 degrees, about seven degrees warmer than normal.
"As little snow we seemed to have last winter and as warm as it seemed, this year it's warmer and we've had less snow."
Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 239-2626.