River and flash flooding since late December has caused over 20 deaths in Illinois and Missouri and forced thousands to evacuate their homes.
The flooding is now threatening to head south. River levels have reached flood stage at several points in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee and are expected to rise further over the next 4 days at least.
Earlier, river levels in Illinois and Missouri had dramatically increased after a 3 day period of heavy rain that began around 24 December 2015. Some areas are thought to have seen over 25 cm of rain fall during that time.
By 31 December, the Meramec River near St Louis had reached record levels. The next day the Mississippi River had reached record levels at Thebes and Cape Girardeau.
Over the weekend of 25 to 27 December, storms and floods in Missouri had left 8 people dead. Missouri Governor, Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency soon after. By 30 December the death toll from the flooding had risen to 14.
The heavy rain that affected the state in late December increased rivers to record levels over the following days and large scale evacuations had to be carried out in areas surrounding St. Louis. Flooding along the Mississippi, Meramec and Bourbeuse rivers, damaged thousands of homes, businesses and public infrastructure.
On 02 January Governor Jay Nixon toured some of the areas affected by the flooding, including Eureka and Cape Girardeau. He also announced that President Barack Obama had approved the Governor’s request for a federal emergency declaration to speed up debris removal and relieve the strain of response and recovery costs in the St. Louis region.
“The fast-rising flood water inundated several thousand homes and businesses and left behind a trail of destruction, debris and refuse that will have to be cleaned up quickly so that rebuilding can begin and the region can recover,” Governor Nixon said. “I appreciate the debris removal assistance the federal government has agreed to provide, and the speed with which the president responded to our request. Federal assistance with debris removal can help ensure the region moves forward from this historic disaster.”
According to the National Weather Service, rainfall between 23 to 28 December 2015 averaged approximately seven inches in affected areas.
On 29 December, Illinois Governor Rauner today issued a state disaster proclamation for seven counties to ensure continued state support to help affected communities respond and recover from flooding caused by the recent heavy rains. Counties included in the proclamation include Calhoun, Jackson, Jersey, Madison, Monroe, Randolph and St. Clair.
“These counties have significant issues related to flooding that is already occurring or could occur over the next several days,” Governor Rauner said. “We are committed to help local responders in these and other impacted counties ensure the safety of people affected by this unusual December flooding.”
The State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) in Springfield was activated Monday to ensure state personnel and equipment could be deployed quickly to support local emergency responders.
It provided nearly 400,000 sandbags, 160 rolls of plastic, 1,200 tons of sand, and numerous pumps and generators to support flood-fighting efforts in several counties.
Major flooding continued in the state of Arkansas along the Arkansas River and its tributaries.
The Arkansas River at Pine Bluff reached 46.24 feet on 02 January. It is expected to remain above flood stage (45 feet) until 06 or 07 January. The White River at Des Arc is also currently at major flood stage.
Flooding has been reported in some areas of along the river in Little Rock and homes and farmland in the Arkansas Delta.
River Levels in Illinois and Missouri
In Illinois and Missouri there are currently 11 Gauges showing major flooding, and a further 9 at moderate flooding and 12 at minor flooding. Many rivers in the Upper Mississippi region are thought to have crested or increases are showing signs of slowing.
Levels are expected to drop over the coming days. For example the Illinois River at Valley City currently stands at 25.52 feet and is expected to crest at 26.3 feet on 06 January.
The Meramec River at Valley Park near St Louis reached record levels of 44.1 feet on 31 December 2015. Levels currently stand at just over flood stage at 16.1 feet and are expected to fall further.
On 01 January the Mississippi reached 48.6 feet at Cape Girardeau, beating the previous high of 48.49 feet of August 1993. The Mississippi River reached record levels of 47.74 feet at Thebes on 02 January 2015. The previous high was 45.91 feet set in May 1995.
Floods Heading South
As the flood water from the numerous tributaries reaches the Mississippi, levels of the river are predicted to rise in the Lower Mississippi region.
The Mississippi River is currently at minor flood stage at 6 points in Mississippi and Louisiana, but is expected to rise sharply over the next 4 days at Greenville, Vicksberg and Natchez in Mississippi and Red River Landing in Louisiana.
The Mississippi at Arkansas City, already above flood stage of 37 feet, is expected to increase to 44.4 feet by 08 January 2015.
At Osceola, Arkansas, north of Memphis, Tennessee, the Mississippi River reached major flood stage (35 feet) on 02 January 2015. It now stands at 38.1 feet and is expected to rise to over 40 feet on the next 2 days.
Exxon Mobil’s Memphis Terminal Closed
In Memphis, Exxon Mobil has shut its terminal as floods threaten to inundate the facility which is located in the south of the city.
“Safety is our first priority and due to rising flood waters, Exxon Mobil’s Memphis Terminal has closed its facility,” said company spokesman Todd Spitler in a statement. Alternative supplies will be provided during the closure and the facility will be reopened as soon as it is safe.
A report in March 2015 by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) said that oil refineries are especially vulnerable to flooding since many are situated on low lying land.