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Army Corps eyes levees as waters rise

A wall of sandbags, typically used to protect areas from flooding.
(via Flickr/clip works)
A wall of sandbags, typically used to protect areas from flooding.

Updated at 6 p.m., Friday, June 19:

More than a week's worth of persistent rainfall is testing the region's system of levees and reservoirs

The Army Corps of Engineers has activated its emergency operations center in St. Louis to monitor the district's locks, dams and levees, but the District’s Chief of Emergency Management Matt Hunn said flood conditions are still mostly manageable.

"Our reservoirs are doing what they need to do; our lakes are holding the amount of water they're supposed to - that's helping us out,” he said.

Flooding and high waters are widespread across the central US, from Texas and Louisiana to Iowa and Illinois, said Hunn.

"Our Memphis and Vicksburg offices also have their emergency operations center open. Rock Island did. I mean, this is the whole Mississippi River. The Missouri River out west - Kansas City's had their emergency operations center open as well. So, it's pretty extensive,” he said.

With more soggy weather on the way, Hunn said he expects rivers and reservoirs to remain swollen for a while.

“I think we're looking at a long summer with the rivers up."

The Mississippi River at St. Louis is projected to crest at 7.4 feet above flood level on Sunday.

The Missouri Department of Transportation is reporting significant flooding on roads north and south of St. Louis close to the Mississippi River as well as numerous locations along the Missouri River west to Jefferson City.

Dozens of locations north and east of Springfield, Missouri are also inundated. 

Updated at 5 p.m., Wednesday, June 17:

The chances for more serious flooding in the St. Louis area continue to rise as the river levels do. Flash flood watches are in effect for Missouri and Illinois through Friday. The St. Louis metro area is expected to see between two and four additional inches of rain late Thursday through Friday, due the impact of Tropical Storm Bill. The heaviest rain is expected to fall south of Interstate-70 to the Arkansas state line.

Meteorologists say because the ground is so saturated, any additional rainfall will run off into creeks and smaller rivers - such as the Meramec at Valley Park. That could then lead to flash flooding. That's bad news for motorists. 

"Don't try to cross water of unknown depth; it's not worth it. Up to a foot to a foot and a half of water can float most vehicles, and once your vehicle loses traction, you're at the mercy of the current and all bets are off at that point," said Wes Browning, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in St. Louis.

Meantime, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is keeping a close eye on the rising Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.

"If we have high river levels that are threatening to overcome levees, we can get out there and provide technical assistance as well as sandbags, plastic sheeting, pumps, so we have resources and expertise that we can provide to local authorities during a flood fight," said Corps spokesman Mike Petersen.

Petersen says current river levels have not caused the closures of locks and dams in the St. Louis area yet.

Our original story:

Recent heavy rains are causing area rivers and streams to leave their banks. And forecasters say two upcoming weather systems could worsen the situation.  

Flood warnings are in place for the Missouri River at:

  • Jefferson City
  • Chamois
  • Gasconade
  • Hermann
  • Washington
  • St. Charles

Warnings are also in place for the Mississippi River at:

  • Canton
  • Hannibal
  • Louisiana
  • Clarksville
  • Winfield
  • St. Louis
  • Grafton
  • Mel Price Lock & Dam
  • Chester

The National Weather Service says five to seven inches of rain could fall through Thursday, causing the already high Missouri River to jump reach four feet above flood stage at some points, while the Mississippi River is expected to reach seven feet above flood stage south of St. Louis.
The rain is a result of back-to-back weather systems that were expected to hit the St. Louis area starting Monday night.

The first system is a front that will eventually become stationary and cause heavy rainfall.

“That, combined with this real moist air mass is going to prompt a lot of showers and thunderstorms, and given how much moisture there is in the air, the showers and thunderstorms will be very efficient,” Fred Glass, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in St. Louis, said.

The second system is a tropical front that will travel north through Texas, but it is not as predictable.

“It’s a little difficult to tell at this point exactly where it’s going to be going to, but it would most likely impact the southern half of Missouri and the southern half of Illinois,” Glass said.

These systems will not only affect the main rivers such as the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, but also smaller streams and creeks.

“The smaller creeks, streams and small rivers behave a lot differently, they’re much more flash flood prone,” Glass said,

Glass said although no significant problems are expected to occur, residents should still keep an eye on their local weather forecasts.

“Best word of advice is if you live in any flood prone areas, pay special attention to the forecast watches and warnings that are going to be coming out of the St. Louis office and for any weather services of the next few days,” Glass said.