UPDATE – Mississippi River heading higher at Natchez

Published 1:44 pm Friday, May 22, 2009

The Mississippi River is expected to reach 53.5 feet on Monday at the Natchez/Vidalia, La., gauge, more than five feet above flood stage.

Marty Pope, a hydrologist at the National Weather Service’s Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center, says rain in the area above the Yazoo River was the biggest contributing factor to the elevated crest, though waters coming from the Arkansas River have also played a role.

The river levels are expected to fall slowly because of significant water coming down the Mississippi River from above Cairo, Ill.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

In 2008, the river reached 57.03 feet, second only to the 1937 record of 58.04 feet.

To the north in Vicksburg, officials expect to shut down Mississippi Highway 465 on Wednesday because of high water. The highway connects U.S. Highway 61 and Eagle Lake.

About 600 Eagle Lake residents would use a narrow, gravel levee road to get to and from the Oxbow Lake, which is a favorite fishing and hunting area.

The Mississippi River is predicted river crest at Vicksburg at 47 feet on Saturday, according to the weather service.

About 4 inches of rainfall over the weekend pushed up the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ forecast crest for the water stage inside the 4,093 square miles of land north of Vicksburg known as the Yazoo Backwater.

The gates of the Steele Bayou control structure off Mississippi 465 — the lone drainage point for the backwater area — were closed May 10.

As of Tuesday, Steele Bayou was holding about 3.4 feet of river water out of the impounded area, as the land side stage was 91.8 feet and the river side stage was 94.3 feet. The gates cannot be reopened until the land side stage is higher than the river side stage.

Without any additional rainfall, the corps estimates the landside stage will top out at 92 to 92.5 feet at the end of the month, said Robert Simrall, corps chief of water control.

In 2008, Steel Bayou was closed on March 13 and reopened on May 8, at which point the water stage inside the structure was 92.3 feet and the Corps estimated a total of 344,000 acres of forest and farmland were flooded. Drainage came in time for planting and a near-normal crop season. That may not be the case this year.

The river topped flood stage at Vicksburg last year on March 29, crested at 50.9 feet April 21 and remained above flood stage until May 10. It was the highest measured river stage recorded at the city in 35 years, dating back to 1973 when the river topped out at 51.6 feet.