Spring river rising, might top flood stage|[03/19/08]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Mississippi continues to rise and will likely crest above its flood stage of 43 feet at Vicksburg in the next two weeks, according to a Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center statement issued today — but, as always, the prediction likely will change.

“Many tributaries are getting a lot of rain, but we’ll just have to see exactly how much, said Kai Roth, forecast center senior hydrologist.

At Vicksburg, the river is expected to hit the flood mark on April 2, and top out at 43.5 feet the following day.

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That reading will close some low-lying roads and flood farm fields north and south of the city, but not affect any homes.

Doug Jeter, who planted 150 acres of wheat in the Redwood area last fall, is watching the threat approach his almost-ready-to-harvest crop.

“Right now, you can see the river is high, but it still has a ways to go to get close to the wheat,” he said Tuesday, with the river at 38 feet. “There’s a lot more wheat out there than just mine, and if the river hits 43 feet we’re all going to be losing quite a bit. It’s going to affect everyone along the river from Natchez to Memphis.”

Seasonal flooding along the river may also cause a delay in planting spring and summer crops, such as corn, soybeans and cotton.

Jeter said earlier rises this year have left him somewhat hopeful the latest forecast may be off by just enough to save his wheat crop.

“We’ve had three small rises already this year. The most recent was forecast to hit 40 feet today, and we’ve only risen to 38 feet,” he said. “They’ve been missing it all year, and I’m just praying they’re going to miss it again.”

There have been heavy rainfalls upstream, including record amounts in some cities, but there’s a chance the water already here will have time to move downstream before the additional water arrives.

John Coccaro, Warren County Extension Service director, said the timing of the crest could not be worse for many farmers.

“We have got a lot of wheat planted north of Vicksburg that has been doing wonderful, but it’s about one month away from having the wheat heads emerge from the stock,” he explained. “The wheat needs to be doing well when the heads emerge, which makes this pretty critical timing in regards to the river cresting around April 3. ”

The heaviest rain Tuesday fell in Cape Girardeau, Mo., which picked up about a foot of rain and experienced widespread flooding. Flooding rains will move into Ohio Valley states Wednesday.

The National Weather Service in Jackson has issued a flood watch for the lower Mississippi River, but senior service hydrologist Marty Pope said it will probably be changed to a flood warning in the coming days.

The river has been rising at a steady pace since early in March. It measured 32 feet on March 5, had risen to 37 feet by March 15 and was at 38.2 feet today, a rise of 0.2 feet from Tuesday.