Rain creates new flood concerns

From staff and wire reportsMay 3, 2013 

More heavy rain and late-season snow are creating new flood concerns for Midwest river towns still cleaning up from April flooding, though forecasters say the waters won't rise as high as last month.

Precipitation pelted the heartland Thursday and Friday, and was expected to continue through the weekend.

National Weather Service Meteorologist Ben Miller said more than 2.4 inches of rain had fallen at Scott Air Force Base and 2.1 inches of rainfall had been recorded at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport from Thursday afternoon through Friday evening. The river level at the St. Louis river front had reached 31 feet.

Miller said the forecast called for the river to reach 31.9 feet by Wednesday, but he anticipates that it may go higher than that.

"The river is already starting to go up already and is deviating from the forecast. The river total will be a little higher than what they're forecasting. That's just a hunch."

By comparison, the river reached 35.3 feet after last month's heavy rainfall.

National Weather Service hydrologist Mark Fuchs said up to 4 1/2 inches of rain was expected in the St. Louis area alone through Sunday.

The timing isn't great. Heavy rain last month led to significant flooding on the Mississippi River and in some cases record flooding on the Illinois River. Both still are flooding at many locations in Missouri and Illinois, and will see a bump from the new rain.

Fuchs said the rivers should crest again next week, though well short of last month's levels. He expects Missouri towns along the Mississippi north of St. Louis to see crests 6 to 7 feet above flood stage, which is a somewhat arbitrary term that the weather service defines as the point when "water surface level begins to create a hazard to lives, property or commerce." But that still will be 3 to 4 feet below the April crests.

Fourteen barges that broke away Thursday night and caused the Mississippi River to be closed north of St. Louis. They were rounded up by Friday morning and the river, which is back on the rise, re-opened.

Capt. Byron Black, Coast Guard Commander of the Upper Mississippi River, said work continues to clean up a spill of crude oil caused by the accident.

"The Coast Guard is assessing the situation" Black said. "Our primary concern is to ensure the safety of people, the environment, and the waterway. To that end, we have personnel on scene actively inspecting affected facilities and vessels and evaluating the River."

The Mississippi River was closed at its confluence with the Missouri River -- from mile marker 194-198 -- at just before 1 a.m. when a barge tow struck a fleeting area near Alton which caused the breakaway.

Two dry docks and two work flats broke free and collided with shipping facilities along the river's edge. One of the barges was loading crude oil at the time and about 300 gallons were spilled.

According to Coast Guard Lt. Colin Fogarty said the river reopened at about 2:15 a.m.

Rainy weather that has settled over the St. Louis metropolitan area and the upper Midwest has the Mississippi River back on the rise.

Water levels were falling fast after cresting last week near 35 feet. But the Mississippi is now expected to swell again.

The river is currently at 30.7 feet in St. Louis, which is considered to be minor flood stage. The National Weather Service predicts that it will rise to about 31 feet by Sunday.

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