Crest forecast backed up, bumped up

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The crest for the Mississippi River at Vicksburg was bumped up another 1.5 feet Monday and pushed back a day — ensuring some area crops will go under water and putting a few homes in jeopardy.

“Mother Nature has not been very kind,” said Jeff Graschel, service coordination hydrologist with the Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center in Slidell, La. “Parts of Arkansas have seen 15 to 20 inches of rain so far this month, including 4 to 5 inches over the weekend, which is driving the forecast up.”

The Mississippi River

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Today at Vicksburg: 42.4 feet

24-hour change: rise of 0.8 feet

Crest forecast:

45.5 feet on May 20

Flood stage: 43 feet

The stage at Vicksburg was 42.4 feet this morning, up .8 foot in a 24-hour period. It is forecast to top flood stage of 43 feet Wednesday, and crest at 45.5 seven days later. Any additional rain over the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys in the next week will likely ratchet up the forecast even further as the forecast center uses 24-hour rain models twice daily to update the forecast.

The late-season rise means flood-prone fields north and south of the city have already been planted, unlike 2008 when farmers could still make a crop after water receded.

Flood stage at Vicksburg was last topped on March 29, 2008, with the river eventually cresting at 50.9 feet on April 21 and remaining 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.

This year’s flood potential is nowhere near as great, but continued increases in the crest forecasts mean an increase in complications.

Most residents of Ford and Waltersville subdivisions, west of North Washington Street, began evacuating their homes when the river level reached 45 feet last year. The lowest-lying homes in the area began taking on water at 46 feet. Barry Graham, City of Vicksburg spokesman, said officials are monitoring the river, but don’t expect any major home damage with the current forecast.

Farmers who tend low-lying land off Chickasaw and Long Lake roads began moving farm equipment to higher ground east of North Washington Street Monday upon hearing of the revised forecast. Warren County Extension Service Director John Coccaro said some crops in the area are sure to get flooded out.

“The 42-, 43-foot level would have had fairly minimal impacts on crops here, but on that flat, flat ground out there on Chickasaw and Long Lake roads an extra foot and a half of water can really start to compound the effect on cropland very quickly,” he said.

Farmers in the Yazoo Backwater Area are not faring any better. The gates of the Steele Bayou Control Structure — the lone drainage point for 4,093 square miles of levee-locked land north of Vicksburg known as the Yazoo Backwater Area — had to be closed on Sunday, said Robert Simrall, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Chief of Water Control. Even without any rainfall locally, the gates will likely have to remain closed until the end of May and water inside the backwater area will reach an estimated 91.5 feet, said Simrall, 

As of this morning, Steele Bayou was holding about a half-foot of water out of the backwater area, as the landside stage was 89.8 feet and the riverside stage was 90.3 feet. The gates cannot be reopened until the landside stage is higher than the riverside stage.

“That’s just like putting the stopper in the bathtub, and that’s pretty scary for some folks up there,” said Coccaro of the closure of Steele Bayou. “It’s really a shame for our corn farmers especially — most of them already have plants in the ground and a lot of them have applied about $100 worth of fertilizer per acre. If the water washes over that, it’s a complete loss.”

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 in the backwater area were flooded.

Mississippi 465 — which connects U.S. 61 North with the Eagle Lake area — was closed for about a month last year after water washed over it at 46.5 feet. South of Vicksburg, LeTourneau Road went under water at about 48 feet last year and was also closed for about a month, causing the temporary layoff of about 1,100 employees of the offshore oil rig manufacturer. This morning, the Warren County Board of Supervisors approved a block grant to repair an 0.8 mile stretch of LeTourneau Road that is still gravel due to flooding last spring. Supervisors said an estimate for the work will be generated this week as the board awaits word on how much money will be available through the Community Development Block Grant.

Vicksburg emergency management officials estimated that 145 people were displaced from 101 homes in the city last spring, most of them from Ford and Waltersville areas, which are repetitive flood plains. Since then, 16 homeowners have applied for a federal buyout of their homes, five have waived their right to any future disaster assistance to begin repairing their homes and a few have begun elevating their homes.

Warren County Emergency Management Director Gwen Coleman said she did not believe any homes in the county would be affected by flooding if the current forecast holds.

“Right now, there’s not any concern,” she said. “Everybody up on (Mississippi) 465 who flooded last has moved out, and they’re all participating in the buyout program. Unless things change drastically, I don’t think it’s going to be a major issue.”

Seven homeowners in the county are still waiting to receive checks through the federal buyout program, said Coleman. Richard Winans, county road manager, said the Kings Point Ferry was forced to cease operations on Sunday when the ferry’s access road, Long Lake Road, became the first to close in the county due to the flood.  

Cairo, Ill., a benchmark for rises and falls south of the city where the Ohio and Mississippi rivers converge, is forecast to crest today at 51 feet — 11 feet above flood stage — but Graschel said it is not expected to begin falling for days.

“Even if we see Cairo crest at 51 feet, we don’t expect it to go below 50 feet for another four or five days,” he said. “We’ll just have to watch the rainfall.” The National Weather Service forecast calls for a 30 to 70 percent chance of rain over Cairo each day Wednesday through Saturday. Locally, rain is in the forecast for the next week, except on Wednesday.


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