Crest forecast for river dropped by a half-foot|[03/26/08]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The forecast crest of the Mississippi River at Vicksburg was lowered by a half-foot today by the Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center, while the crest date remained the same.

“What’s happening is many oxbow lakes are very low — they haven’t flooded since 2005 — and they’re taking on some of the flood waters coming down north of Vicksburg,” said Marty Pope, senior service hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Jackson.

Oxbow lakes are scattered throughout the Lower Mississippi River Basin.

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Today the river at Vicksburg stood at 42 feet, a rise of 0.7 feet from Tuesday. It is also now forecast to surpass flood stage of 43 feet on Saturday, and crest at 45.5 feet six days later.

Pope said the 1 to 4 inches of rain expected to fall over the already-saturated Ohio and Upper Mississippi River Valleys later this week should not affect crest levels downriver.

“The rain that’s going to fall up north is basically just going to keep the river from falling in those areas,” he said. “The crest down here won’t be affected unless we receive some heavy rains locally.”

The lowered crest could provide some relief to area farmers who spent the better part of the past two days moving heavy equipment and machinery to higher ground as the river began to inundate fields north of the city.

“We’ll just have to wait and see how high it actually goes, but there will probably be some fields that go completely under by the weekend,” said Doug Jeter, who has about 150 acres of wheat off Chickasaw Road. “It’s already completely covered the road.”

Warren County Extension Service Director John Coccaro said he is not confident a large amount of the roughly 2,000 acres of wheat in the county, if any, will survive after being under water for a full week.

“I’m really afraid a lot of that wheat north of Vicksburg will be pretty much destroyed, it’s one of the lower-lying areas of the county,” he said. “Sometimes if the water is cool and flowing, it will have enough oxygen in it for the wheat to stay alive. That’s more of a partial flood situation, where the water comes up for a day or two and quickly recedes. It doesn’t look like that’s what is going to happen here.”On a tour of area wheat fields last Friday, Coccaro said he found one particularly low-lying portion of Jeter’s field that had already taken on as much as six inches of water.

For Jeter, that’s a very unsettling reality, and one which could cost him a lot of money. Like many of his neighboring farmers, he has already agreed on a price at which he will sell his wheat crop to grain elevator operators. Due to a commodities market that has experienced even more unpredictable jumps than crude oil, what Jeter thought was a good deal last year could turn into a major loss this summer.

“I booked wheat a year ago, when it was at an all-time high at $5 a bushel. Two years ago I’d sold wheat for $3.50 a bushel, and that was the most I’d ever gotten,” he said. “Now wheat is around $11 a bushel, which is just unheard of. If I don’t come up with this wheat, I’ll have to pay the difference. That’s what the killer is.”

Meanwhile, many fields south of Vicksburg remain largely vacant, said Coccaro, awaiting planting of corn and soybeans. Some planting takes place the first week of April, but will likely be delayed this year.

“Because farmers have been able to plant soybeans and corn early in the past few years, they have really increased productivity and yield,” Coccaro said. “If they have to delay that planting an extra few weeks or a month, it could really have a negative affect into the fall harvest.”

Mississippi RiverCREST FORECAST45.5 feet on April 4Today’s stage: 42.0 feetRose: 0.7 footFlood stage: 43 feetRoads and streets already under water or expected to flood this week include Ford Road, Hutson Street (200 block), Pittman Road (400 block), Williams Street, Hardin Road, Jackson Lane, Browns Alley, Railroad Alley, Eva Street, Young Alley, Round Alley, Water Well Road, Randle Street, Rankin Alley, Chickasaw Road (80 block and greater), Chickasaw Lane (outside city), Chickasaw Drive (outside city), Thompson Lake Road, Kings Crossing (100 block and greater) and Falk Steel Road (200 block, even numbered addresses)Updated river forecasts are on the Internet at RiverPast high readingsYearDateGauge1973May 1351.61974Feb. 944.21975April 1248.01976March 732.41977April 2132.41978April 939.81979April 2647.91980April 1440.51981June 1432.51982Dec. 1939.71983May 2749.31984May 2545.81985March 1842.21986Oct. 2035.11987March 1336.51988Jan. 636.41989March 841.01990June 842.81991Jan. 2044.41992Dec. 3134.41993May 1843.61994May 346.01995June 1247.01996June 143.61997March 2249.11998May 1443.61999Feb. 1341.72000March 629.32001March 839.92002June 345.42003May 2943.02004Dec. 2039.32005Jan. 3144.52006March 2731.62007Jan. 2637.8Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers