The deluge that devastated so much of Nebraska is now moving downstream to threaten cities in Missouri and Kansas as the flood bulge makes its way toward the Mississippi River.
Major flooding is occurring at St. Joseph, Missouri, with waters there expected to crest more than two feet (0.6 meter) above major flood stage on Friday and reach near-record levels at Atchison, Kansas, on Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.
“Those are the two we are focusing on right now,” said Walt Otto, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill, Missouri. “Looking at the forecast, next week river stages should start to come down.”
Triggered by a massive winter storm last week, many of the cities along the banks of the Missouri River have been inundated. Emergencies have been declared across 80 percent of Nebraska, with Governor Pete Ricketts calling it the largest widespread disaster the state has faced.
While floods may have subsided before crop planting starts across the region, the waters have caused problems for livestock.
The rising waters on the Missouri add to months of flooding along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, which has snarled barge traffic carrying grains, oil, coal and chemicals. Flooding is happening on at least 247 river gauges across the U.S.
In February, the Army Corps of Engineers opened the Bonnet Carre Spillway upriver from New Orleans to control flooding there. It was just the 13th time the spillway was opened in 88 years and the first time it was opened in back-to-back years.
The U.S. had its third-wettest year on record in 2018, leaving ground saturated, according to the U.S. National Centers for Environmental Information. That was followed by the wettest winter on record in the 48 contiguous states.
Further complicating the situation, heavy snows fell across the upper Midwest and northern Great Plains. If the snow melts at the same time as spring rains come, there could be widespread flooding across much of the U.S. and Canada.
To the north, cities and towns along the Red River in Minnesota, North Dakota and Canada are preparing for a deluge of their own as the heavy snows of winter start to melt. Fargo has declared an emergency and has ordered 1 million sandbags to protect the city.
This is a scenario that could make things worse along the Missouri, Otto said. There is still a lot of snow that has to melt upstream. “As far as today goes, conditions should be dry.”
–With assistance from Kevin Varley.