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Major flooding in Boone County unlikely this week

As wet as it's been, conditions aren't as bad as in 1993, experts say
Tuesday, June 10, 2008 | 6:40 p.m. CDT; updated 8:00 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008
Gary Fowler, a deckhand on the Mark Twain riverboat, points to flood waters creeping up the ramp leading to the tour boat Tuesday in Hannibal. Several towns along the Mississippi River are bracing for flooding that forecasters say could reach near the record levels of 1993.

COLUMBIA — While rivers have escaped their banks around the Midwest and rainfalls smashed records in Missouri, the chances of major flooding in Boone County over the remaining part of this week remains slim.

Since December, Columbia and other parts of the state have experienced six consecutive months of above normal precipitation. The amount has even outstripped records set in 1993, when dousing rains through spring and summer set the stage for the Great Flood of 1993.

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The conditions at times have been eerily similar. To the north, much of Iowa has seen river crests come close to or eclipse marks set more than 15 years ago.

Several towns along the Mississippi River in northeast Missouri are bracing for flooding as the water from Iowa and elsewhere finally reaches towns such as LaGrange, Hannibal, Louisiana and Clarksville.

River levels in most of these towns are slightly above flood stage, but the river is expected to rise dramatically in the next week.

However, conditions in mid-Missouri are not as severe. As of Tuesday afternoon, river stages along the Missouri River were forecast to crest with the possibility of moderate flooding, according to river gauges maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The only impact so far was the closure of Route 179 on Tuesday evening in Moniteau County near Sandy Hook by the Missouri Department of Transportation. The department anticipated that water would cover the road sometime after rush hour, a news release said.

Gov. Matt Blunt has directed the State Emergency Managment Agency to monitor the flooding and take necessary steps to aid any communities at risk of being inundated by flood waters, a press release said.

Pat Guinan, a climatologist with MU’s Extension Office, said the wet weather is a result of the Midwest being wedged in a “battle zone” between cold temperatures in the northern plains and the Pacific Northwest and hot air in the eastern and southeastern U.S. Meanwhile, the jet stream, which carries weather patterns across the continent, changed course as a result of the La Niña phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean. The clash of air masses has led to unstable weather patterns.

Columbia has received just more than 23 inches of rain this year, which is almost 6 inches above normal, according to the National Weather Service. At the end of June 1993, the precipitation total for the city was 24.13 inches and wound up totaling 62.29 inches for the year.

Despite this year’s record-setting rain, Guinan said chances are small that this summer will follow the same script as 15 years ago.

“To reach the magnitude and scope that we saw in 1993, that’s unlikely — at least for Missouri — unless we see record rainfall in July and August,” Guinan said.

Unlike the fall of 1992, there has not been persistent and heavy rainfall in the Dakotas, Montana and Nebraska, where snowpack melts and runs into the headwaters of the Missouri River. Following that wet fall, the summer of 1993 saw storm fronts frequently stall over the Midwest, pouring 4 to 5 inches of rain at a time on already oversaturated ground.

While much of Missouri and Illinois have had double the precipitation they usually receive, parts of the Upper Plains remain behind on rain for the year.

The result is that there is not nearly as much water coming downstream through a series of dams in South Dakota and Nebraska maintained by the Corps that help regulate the flow of the river.

Edward Parker, a water management engineer with the Kansas City district of the Army Corps of Engineers, said the water levels of the Corps’ flood-control lakes shouldn’t be much different from normal this year.

“I don’t believe that the lake projects will have abnormally high (water) elevations for this time of year,” Parker said.

He said the water levels along the Missouri River, though, are “going to be getting a lot higher, at least in the next few days.”

As an added measure, the Corps shut off releases from Truman Reservoir near Warsaw at noon Monday, which “should help alleviate some of the conditions around Hermann,” Parker said.

Parker said there is “at least some concern” upstream of Kansas City, but “as far as making a firm prediction as far as what’s going to be the stage this summer at Boonville (the closest gauge to Columbia), we don’t have the kind of information where we can tell.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, the National Weather Service is predicting that crests along the Missouri River took place Tuesday and any remaining points along the river will crest Wednesday. Still, the service is keeping a watchful eye on its gauges and the radar to see what the forecast holds.

Scott Watson, a hydrologist with the Kansas City office of the National Weather Service, said the river should crest Wednesday in Glasgow and Boonville at 31 feet and 28 feet respectively. “A lot of the stations before Glasgow have already seen that water come through from up north” in Iowa, Watson said.

The forecast for the rest of the week, though, calls for rain in northeast Nebraska and western Iowa on Wednesday, which could receive 1 to 2 inches. That system should arrive in central Missouri by Thursday. However, the effects of that rain won’t be known until early Friday morning when the weather service updates its river-stage models, Watson said.

“There might be more heavy rain that’s forecasted this week that could cause some secondary crests and keeps the rivers up,” Watson said. “It’s just a matter of where the rain falls and how much lands on us.”

At this point, the situation is being closely monitored but has not reached the point where residents along the river should be terribly worried.

“What would really be a problem is if the weather system stalled over us and just poured,” Watson said. “The river can usually handle 1 or 2 inches of rain in systems that just move through the area. It gets to be a problem when you just have wet weather stagnate over an area that’s already gotten a lot of precipitation.”

Missourian reporter Matt Harris contributed to this report.


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