ST. LOUIS — Another wet weekend has some Midwestern rivers rising, creating flooding that is an ironic end to a winter spent fretting about drought.
Parts of eastern Missouri and southwestern Illinois were hardest hit by rain that began Saturday afternoon and fell through Sunday. National Weather Service meteorologist Jayson Gosselin said Monday that Potosi got 4.4 inches of rain, Randolph County, Ill., received 4.1 inches, and Farmington had 3.9 inches.
Rain from the most recent storms combined with that from the previous weekend and melt from two big snows in the weeks before that to fill the region's rivers, including the Mississippi River. Just a month ago, the Mississippi was so low barge traffic was restricted, and there was concern it could be shut down entirely.
"It's certainly a lot different of a picture than three or four weeks ago," Gosselin said.
The National Weather Service said several rivers were at or near flood stage in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Missouri. The Mississippi was approaching flood stage at several spots south of St. Louis to Cairo, Ill., where it joins with the Ohio River.
Not that Cairo residents have been worried. The town is protected by a massive flood wall. Although the Ohio River was a foot above flood stage Monday, it would need to climb another 20 feet to overtop the barrier. Cairo was a national focal point just two years ago when record flooding lapped at the top of the wall but never got above it.
"The truth is Cairo has not had floodwaters since June 7, 1858," town treasurer Preston Ewing said, expressing some frustration that outsiders think his community gets wet every time the river tops technical flood stage.
"From time to time, the Ohio and the Mississippi try to storm the town, but we're so tough we hold them back," Ewing said.
More troublesome than the big rivers were the smaller waterways. The Meramec River, which runs along several St. Louis-area towns, was flooding roads and adjacent land. Water rose so quickly Sunday that Meramec State Park had to be evacuated. A camper missing for several hours finally turned up around 2 a.m. Monday, Gosselin said. He was OK, but his trailer got wet.
Heavy rain also caused a fast rise in Saline Creek in southeast Missouri. Andrew Jokerst, 27, learned a hard lesson about crossing a flooded bridge when Perry County authorities had to rescue him from his flooded Camaro on Sunday night. Jokerst took it in stride, smoking a cigarette while waiting patiently for help to arrive, Sheriff Gary Schaaf said.
"He is really lucky he didn't take a ride and get swept off," Schaaf said. "We tell people year after year, 'Don't do this,' but somebody always does."
There was no such drama in southeastern Iowa, but Wapsipinicon River north of Davenport was so flooded that a few homes and old U.S. 61 were threatened.
Gosselin said the region should be in for a bit of a break — no heavy precipitation is expected for the next several days. He's hoping that holds true.
"The soil's obviously very, very saturated," Gosselin said.