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River watchers already wary about 2020 spring flooding

Main Street in downtown Grafton, Illinois, is swamped with Mississippi River flood waters on June 5. After a year that has seen some of the worst flooding ever in parts of the Midwest, concern is already rising that the spring of 2020 may bring more high water to places that still haven’t fully recovered. . (David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP, File)

Main Street in downtown Grafton, Illinois, is swamped with Mississippi River flood waters on June 5. After a year that has seen some of the worst flooding ever in parts of the Midwest, concern is already rising that the spring of 2020 may bring more high water to places that still haven’t fully recovered. . (David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP, File)

By JIM SALTER
Associated Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — After a year that has seen some of the worst flooding ever in parts of the Midwest, concern is already rising that the spring of 2020 may bring more high water to places that still haven’t fully recovered.

Flooding ravaged much of the Missouri and Mississippi River basins and their tributaries earlier this year, reaching record levels and overwhelming levees in many places. Eight months later, parts of the Missouri River are slightly above flood stage at a time of the year when river levels usually run low.

Conditions are only slightly better on the Mississippi River, which is just a couple of feet below flood stage at several towns from Burlington, Iowa, south to near St. Louis.

High river levels aren’t the only cause for concern. The National Weather Service hydrologist Mark Fuchs cited two others: The soil is extremely saturated in northern states like Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Dakotas, and the long-range forecast offers a strong possibility of a wetter-than-normal winter.

“We’re worried about rivers in general, primarily the Missouri and Mississippi for the spring,” said Fuchs, of the weather service’s suburban St. Louis office. “We’ll see how the winter plays out.”

Areas along the Missouri River in parts of Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa and Missouri were particularly ravaged in the early spring, damaging hundreds of homes and businesses.

In Buchanan County, Missouri, some county roads have been damaged on three separate occasions after floodwaters rose, fell and rose again. Emergency Management Director Bill Brinton said those roads have been repaired to the point of being passable. But with the likelihood of severe flooding strong next spring, full repairs will have to wait.

Levees that were overtopped and breached in spring and summer flooding also remain unrepaired, meaning that the next big flood could again damage houses that were damaged months ago.

“It’s kind of scary for the spring,” said Brinton, whose county had about 150 homes damaged. “These people have had their lives impacted three separate times this year.”

The Mississippi River reached near-record levels several times, hitting their second-highest level ever in St. Louis. Both the Mississippi and Missouri rivers dipped below flood stage by early fall, “then they turned around and went right back up in October with more rain in both basins,” Fuchs said. “For both rivers, there really hasn’t been much chance to recover.”

Fuchs said soil moisture in many places to the north is at the 99th percentile for late fall.

“If you have rain, it’s supposed to go into the ground,” Fuchs said. “Well, there’s just not room in the soil to accept rainfall or snowmelt.”

Adding to the concerns is the weather service’s December-February forecast, which shows a significant chance of above-normal precipitation in the upper Midwestern states.

For now, all that those who live near rivers can do is wait. Brinton said the holes in Buchanan County’s levees are too big and plentiful to sandbag.

“I just don’t see how it’s not going to be a problem in the spring,” Brinton said.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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