(OMAHA, Neb.) — Floodwaters are receding across most of the hard-hit Midwest, but there could be new problems if the forecast for significant rain later this week holds up. Already the flooding along the Missouri River and its tributaries has caused at least $3 billion damage and forced thousands from their homes as floodwaters penetrated or flowed over several hundred miles of levees.
The flooding is blamed in three confirmed deaths, and two Nebraska men have been missing for more than a week.
The flooding has taken a heavy toll on agriculture in the region, inundating tens of thousands of acres, threatening stockpiled grain and killing livestock. Thousands of people have been forced from their homes in Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri, and some have yet to return to assess the damage. Residents of Kansas City, Missouri, are being asked to conserve water while KC Water treats murky water caused by filtration issues. Flooding has closed about 140 roads in Missouri, even as water levels begin falling along much of the Missouri River.
Officials in those three states plan to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to determine if any changes need to be made to the system of levees that is supposed to protect towns and cities from swollen rivers.
Yet more flood damage is possible as spring rains arrive and more snow in northern states melts and flows into rivers.
“We’re not done yet and I think that’s the other thing that we want to make sure folks are watching very closely,” Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig said.
Flooding continues to cause problems along several major rivers in the eastern Dakotas and northwestern Minnesota.
The National Weather Service says there’s a 10 percent chance the Red River will approach the 2009 record of 41 feet (12.5 meters) in Fargo, North Dakota, and neighboring Moorhead, Minnesota.
Both cities have implemented significant flood-fighting measures in the last decade, including home buyouts and levees that could be tested this year. But both cities have still declared emergencies and are launching sandbag-filling efforts — 1 million sandbags in Fargo and 150,000 in Moorhead.
Spring flooding also is a concern in southern Minnesota. Gov. Tim Walz, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan and U.S. Rep. Angie Craig were among the public officials who joined Hastings residents to fill thousands of sandbags over the weekend. The Mississippi River at Hastings is forecast to rise to major flood stage this week.
In eastern South Dakota, major flooding is expected along the James and the Big Sioux rivers in the next couple of weeks, though record crests are not anticipated, according to Mike Gillispie, National Weather Service hydrologist in Sioux Falls.
“Sioux Falls itself should be in pretty good shape,” he said. “Just upstream (on the Big Sioux), though, Baltic, Dell Rapids, Trent, some of those smaller communities up through that stretch of river, there are significant impacts up there. Roads in the cities are being flooded, maybe even houses.”
The weather service predicts eastern Nebraska and western Iowa could receive 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 centimeters) of rain from Wednesday to Friday. That much rain would certainly send river levels higher, creating problems for homes behind levees that were weakened in the initial flooding.
The forecast may be revised as the storm gets closer. Meteorologist Bryon Miller said the good news is that the river crests following this week’s forecast storm will likely be lower than during recent floods.
“It doesn’t look like it will be anywhere near the crests we saw at the height of this,” said Miller, from the NWS office in Valley, Nebraska.
A combination of heavy rains and rapid snowmelt atop ground that was already saturated and in some places still frozen sent the Missouri River and other rivers over the top earlier this month.
This week’s storm system could also bring rain to the Mississippi River basin and exacerbate problems there.
But so far most of the flooding along the Mississippi hasn’t created major issues, National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Hladik said.
“The current levels are somewhat routine along the Mississippi,” Hladik said.
The Mississippi is expected to crest sometime in April, depending on the timing of spring rains and snowmelt. The river will be susceptible to flooding over the next month, Hladik said.
The Mississippi River is expected to keep rising in the Minnesota capital of St. Paul this week after reaching major flood stage Monday morning. About half a dozen roads in the city are closed, as well as several parks and boat launches. City leaders have started building a temporary levee in the Lowertown area of St. Paul.