Mississippi River behaving this year at Vicksburg

Published 10:33 pm Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A year ago, the Mississippi River passed flood stage and crest forecasts rose and rose again, the water not stopping until it reached a reading of 50.9 feet on the Vicksburg gauge.

This year, by contrast, the byword welcomed by farmers and residents of low-lying areas is “normal.”

The 2008 crest was about .7 inches lower than the 1973 crest at 51.6 feet, which was the most widespread flood since 1927.

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Several inches of rain have fallen in the area in the last few weeks but the Mississippi River here does not reflect local totals.

“We’re in a lot better shape this year than we were last year,” said Waylon Hill, Water Division civil engineering technician for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Vicksburg District. “The snow that would have impacted us up north is pretty much gone. What will impact us from here on out will be rainfall, and of course, nobody knows how much rainfall we’re going to get.”

The river at Vicksburg stood at 34.4 feet on Monday, well below the flood stage of 43 feet.

The 2008 crest came on April 19 and remained above flood stage until May 11. During the interim, farm fields north and south of the city were idle, about 70 homes were inundated and LeTourneau Technologies was idled, leaving about 800 people jobless at the company’s oil-rig fabrication site.

Though today’s stages don’t indicate a problem, flooding is still possible.

“There’s about an average chance of spring flooding this year for the Vicksburg area,” said National Weather Service Meteorologist Bill Frederick, who works closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg monitoring the river.

A La Nina weather system dominated last year which typically produces major rain events in the early spring but Frederick said heavy rains will likely come later this year due to a transition out of the La Nina system.

“We’re in a neutral year, in which we generally see flooding in April and May,” he said. “We’re getting some rainfall events now, but nothing like the major events we had last year. Looking into the long range, we don’t see any big rainfall events right now.”

Cairo where the Mississippi and Ohio rivers converge serves as the benchmark for the Mississippi River south of the Illinois city. The river at Cairo fell just short of flood stage of 40 feet in January, has since receded and has now risen to about the January stage.

“We usually see two rises each year one in late December or January, and another in the spring. So, really, we’ve been running about normal or even a little below normal across the board thus far this year,” said Pope.

Major tributaries of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers are also flowing at normal levels at this point, said Pope. Flooding of the Red River in northern Minnesota and North Dakota will not affect the lower Mississippi River, as the Red River flows north and drains into Canada.