A few days of fair weather have helped lower river levels after rainfall this spring set records.
The National Weather Service this week issued a forecast for continued comparatively cool and wet weather well into July. Officially, Kansas City still hasn’t hit 90 degrees, though that could change this weekend.
The Weather Service takes official measurements for Kansas City at Kansas City International Airport. Through Tuesday, KCI had recorded 31.9 inches of precipitation this year. The average for Kansas City in an entire year is 38.86 inches. The record, set in 1961, is 60.25 inches.
May was the wettest in 131 years of record keeping, and now June – with days to go – is well above average. The average is 5.23 inches; so far 7.64 inches has fallen.
The first six months of the year have each had above-average precipitation. That’s only been recorded twice before in Kansas City, in 1929 and 1964.
The Missouri River remains at moderate or major flood stage at most points from Plattsmouth, Neb., downstream to St. Louis, other than the immediate Kansas City area below the Kansas River; in that area, the river basin is relatively deep and wide.
At Sibley, the river was at 27.7 feet late Wednesday, still in minor flood stage but steadily falling. It’s expected to be in flood stage for at least another week. It’s recent crest was 30.09 feet late Sunday, well into moderate flood stage. Downstream, the river remains at major flood stage at Miami and Glasgow, Mo.
Overall, the river is expected to stay high for weeks. The reservoirs on the Upper Missouri, which hold water from Nebraska, South Dakota and states to the west, remain unusually full. Releases at the Gavins Point Dam in Yankton, S.D., the dam farthest downstream, have been more than double the normal rate for weeks.
That release rate is being cut slightly, from 75,000 cubic feet per second to 70,000 cfs, starting today, though some downstream levee operators have asked for a substantial cut for at least a few days so they can get water behind their levees to drain into the river. But the Corps of Engineers, looking at massive amounts of water still needing to be released, say the higher releases at Gavins Point will continue through at least July.
Similarly, there are massive amounts of water in reservoirs on the Osage River and its tributaries in Missouri and Kansas, and all that water dumps into the Missouri just east of Jefferson City. As the Missouri has come down some, releases at Truman Lake and Lake of the Ozarks have been increased.
Rain and flooding have all sorts of effects. Because flooding has forced more freight traffic onto the Union Pacific that runs across the middle of Missouri, Amtrak for the third time this year on Monday stopped Missouri River Runner trains. Passengers instead are put on buses. Amtrak hasn’t said when regular service will resume.
All of the high water in the Missouri River of course ends up in the Mississippi River, where flooding has been a headache for months.
Repairs and cleanup following the prolonged flooding along the Mississippi will cost more than $2 billion, an advocacy group for river communities said this week. The river remains well above flood stage throughout much of the Mississippi River corridor.
Colin Wellenkamp, executive director of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, said the damage along the Mississippi River was estimated at nearly $2 billion by the end of March, even before several additional rounds of major flooding. He expects the number to rise but said it's too early for a more accurate estimate.
The Mississippi has been above flood stage at some Southern towns for more than 200 days. Mayors who spoke during a conference call with the media Tuesday said the length of the flood has created unusual trouble.
Some places are dealing with sinkholes due to water soaking the ground, or seepage through saturated levees. In Greenville, Mississippi, Mayor Errick Simmons said sewer pump failures have been particularly damaging in the town's poorest areas.
"Some folks can't flush their commodes," Simmons said. He expects the flood fight to last several more months.
One of the hardest-hit towns was Davenport, Iowa, where raging water surged into downtown after a barrier failed on April 30, swamping several buildings and washing away vehicles.
Davenport Mayor Frank Klipsch said that by the time the barrier gave way, it had already been holding back floodwater for up to 80 days.
"The unprecedented length of the flood, coupled with the depth, has definitely had a serious impact," Klipsch said.
The flood was the second-worst on record in the neighboring Illinois towns of Grafton and Alton, north of St. Louis. Grafton Mayor Rick Eberlin said the popular shops on the tourist town's Main Street have been closed for weeks and aren't expected to reopen until mid-July.
Alton Mayor Brant Walker said the flood was so bad in his town that the river grew to 7 miles wide. An estimated 500 to 700 workers have been idled in Alton due to flooding, including those employed by a casino that had to temporarily shut down.
"We're hoping to get this flood behind us and get everybody back to work because it's been absolutely devastating," Walker said.
The flood has damaged around 30 levees along the Mississippi River, said Jared Gartman of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Gartman said the cost of the damage has not yet been determined.