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Mississippi River crest this weekend is no cause for concern in the St. Louis region

The Old Chain of Rocks Bridge on Monday, Feb. 6, 2023, while on the Mississippi River.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
The Old Chain of Rocks Bridge is seen in the distance in February from the middle of the Mississippi River.

Towns along the Mississippi River in the St. Louis region will not see significant flooding despite the river cresting and expected rain this weekend, according to local leaders and emergency management officials.

The river near Grafton is expected to peak on Saturday at 20.4 feet above its regular level. While that’s considered in the minor flood stage by the National Weather Service, Grafton Mayor Michael Morrow said it would take a level just shy of 24 feet to possibly flood businesses by the river.

“None of our streets are going to be affected, none of our businesses or homes or anything,” said Morrow, who previously served as the St. Louis district engineer of the Army Corps of Engineers. “It's really a nonevent for us here in Grafton.”

Morrow said the city is prepared for much worse. Many homes and businesses in Grafton were built perched on stilts.

“Grafton today stands unique among all of the other river towns because we don't have levees,” Morrow said. “We're open to the river.”

That means in some years, Grafton floods.

“But we’re used to that,” Morrow said. “That’s all part of our heritage.”

Grafton's riverfront and parts of Main Street stand inundated by water, as seen by a drone flying above the city.
Brent Jones
St. Louis Public Radio
In 2019, Grafton's riverfront and parts of Main Street flooded. The river reached 35 feet, which was the second highest level on record behind 1993.

In nearby Alton, the river is predicted to crest at 16.7 feet above regular level at the Melvin Price Locks and Dam. The minor flooding stage is considered 21 feet. This year’s level is below average for spring, said Mary Kate Brown, deputy director of Madison County’s Emergency Management Agency.

“We should be in the clear as far as this crest goes,” Brown said.

Even though the National Weather Service office in St. Louis forecasts scattered thunderstorms over the weekend, no towns below Grafton on the Mississippi are in flood stage, said Melissa Byrd, a meteorologist at the weather service. That’s because these elevated levels are coming from snow melt and not precipitation.

Byrd said two Missouri points farther north along the Mississippi — Saverton and Winfield — are the only locations peaking in the moderate category. Both will also crest over the weekend.

In Quincy, Illinois, two hours north of St. Louis, the river crested at 21.2 feet on Friday, according to the weather service. John Simon, the Adams County Emergency Management director, said the river would need to hit 23 feet for major roads to flood.

The St. Louis region handled all the northern snowmelt this year because of its width here, said Mike Welvaert, a hydrologist with the weather service.

It also helps that both the Missouri and Illinois rivers are below flood stage. In fact, some meteorologists, Morrow said, are wondering if the area will reach moderate or severe drought stages this summer if there’s not more rainfall.

Currently, much of the St. Louis area is in the “abnormally dry” drought level, according to the weather service.

However, the minor flooding this spring doesn’t mean the area couldn’t flood later this summer — or even fall or winter. That’s why Brown and others said they’ll continue to monitor the river,

“(It’s) just kind of an ever-changing thing that we have to just kind of keep an eye on,” she said.

Will Bauer is the Metro East reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.