Climate experts said Thursday the recent rains in the area finally have pulled the metro-east out of drought conditions that date back to last summer.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's drought meter, which released a new report Thursday, St. Clair County, Washington County and everything to the south and east are in the clear. Madison and Monroe counties only show signs of lingering drought along their western borders with the Mississippi River.
"If you compare what came out today with what we had in early December, you can definitely see improvements in western Missouri and south central Illinois," said National Weather Service hydrologist Mark Fuchs. "There is almost no evidence of drought from Vandalia to points southwest."
Fuchs said there are positive signs that the wetter times are here to stay.
"The new long range forecast comes out next week which will cover from March until May," Fuchs said. "So we'll have a little bit better idea after that. But it seems like we're getting a more active storm pattern in this part of the country lately."
The Mississippi River has improved dramatically because of recent rains.
The river is about five feet over normal depth as of Thursday, according to the National Weather Service. It spent a good deal of December and January three feet below normal depth which disrupted barge traffic on the river because barges didn't have the nine feet of water they need to navigate in some places.
According to National Weather Service projections, the river should remain at least at normal depth in the St. Louis area through the end of February even if the area does not get significant rainfall for the rest of the month.
U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Colin Fogarty said the sudden rise in the river level has been great for the barge industry. But it has caused some problems for the people responsible for keeping the waterway in top condition.
"The sudden influx of water has been problematic for the rock removal work at Grand Tower," Fogarty said. "The water's just too deep for the crews to do the work that they need to do."
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hired crews to remove rock pinnacles sticking up from the bottom of the river at Grand Tower, about 80 miles south of St. Louis, because they threaten to snag boats when water levels are low.
Fogarty said the other problem with the river right now is that the sudden rush of deep water has picked up drift wood and other debris left at the sides of the lower river and flushed it downstream.
"It's a serious hazard for recreational boaters," Fogarty said of the debris. "But it doesn't bother the barge traffic too much. So it's fortunate there aren't too many recreational boaters on the river at this time of year."
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