NOAA: High Water To Continue Through May

Amid ongoing flooding and high water along most U.S. river systems, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its spring flood outlook March 21, forecasting widespread flooding to continue through May.

“The extensive flooding we’ve seen in the past two weeks will continue through May and become more dire, and may be exacerbated in the coming weeks as the water flows downstream,” said Ed Clark, director of NOAA’s National Water Center in Tuscaloosa, Ala. “This is shaping up to be a potentially unprecedented flood season, with more than 200 million people at risk for flooding in their communities.”

In a press release, NOAA said, “Additional spring rain and melting snow will prolong and expand flooding, especially in the central and southern U.S. As this excess water flows downstream through the river basins, the flood threat will become worse and geographically more widespread.”

Upper Mississippi Locks

As a wave of high water rolled through the Upper Mississippi, locks closed. Lock 16 at Mile 457.2 and Lock 17 at Mile 437 were both closed March 16 and were expected to reopen after March 26.

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Lock 18 at Mile 410 closed March 18 and was expected to reopen March 26. Lock 20 at Mile 343, closed since March 18, was expected to reopen March 31.

Lock 21 at Mile 325 was expected to close March 24, and Lock 22 at Mile 301 closed March 20.

The Corps’ Lock Queue Report website showed an average delay at the Chain of Rocks Lock 27 at Mile 185 of more than four hours, with 15 lockages in queue on March 19.

Illinois Waterway Busy, Some Delays

The lock queue report showed a busy Illinois Waterway, with mostly short delays; a few locks had delays of more than an hour. Due to flood conditions in St. Louis, outbound Illinois River tow sizes were reduced to 12 barges.

The Corps is planning to close six of the Illinois Waterways system’s eight locks for “long overdue” repairs in 2020. Barge industry leaders have been working with Rock Island Engineer District officials to consolidate as much work as possible to minimize closures.

Reduced Tow Sizes On Lower Miss

In St. Louis, daylight-only transits through St. Louis harbor and the Thebes, Ill., bridge at Upper Mississippi Mile 40 were expected to be in place through the middle of April.

On the Lower Mississippi, towing industry officials are consulting daily with NOAA, Corps and Coast Guard officials on the best measures to assure safety. Continuing high water has resulted in a reduced tow size of 10 to 15 barges, accompanied by three areas of daylight-only operation: Memphis, Vicksburg and Baton Rouge. High-water regulations in the Gulf zone are projected to remain in place through April.

Corps officials told New Orleans media outlets that the flooding in Nebraska and other parts of the Midwest—the worst in 50 years in those areas—should have only a minimal impact on operations at the Bonnet Carré Spillway. Floodwaters from the Platte and other rivers in Nebraska will not reach New Orleans until mid-April. A Corps spokesman said that while upriver flooding could extend the overall period of high water on the Lower Mississippi, it would take enough time for the floodwaters to travel down that the effects will be spread out.

The Corps is currently operating 196 of the 360 bays in the Bonnet Carré, which protects New Orleans and suburbs downriver from flooding, having closed 10 bays on March 15. While additional bays could be opened, the second rise from flood waters from the upper Midwest was expected to total only a few inches.

Old River Lock Closed

The Old River Lock at Mile 304 was closed due to high water.  This closure shuts off access to the Red River and Atchafalaya River from the Lower Mississippi. The latest forecast had the lock reopening April 1.