Mississippi River Near Normal, Missouri River Still Catching Up In Spring Flood Outlook

This winter has built up a substantial snowpack in the Upper Midwest and Great Plains, a welcome contrast to last year’s sparser snowfalls. That stored water contributed to a Mississippi River spring flood outlook close to normal levels.

The Missouri River will also benefit from better snowpack in the Upper Great Plains, but many parts of that river basin are still experiencing drought conditions, so it has further to bounce back before its water levels approach normal.

That was the conclusion of the National Weather Service in its third and final spring flood outlook, released March 9. “With recent rainfall, soil moisture has returned to near-average levels across the St. Louis service area.  This translates into near-average flood chances along most local streams in the St. Louis Service Area over the next 90 days,” according to the NWS.

The St. Louis service area refers to the Mississippi River from above Canton, Mo., to below Chester, Ill.; the Missouri River above Jefferson City, Mo., to its confluence with the Mississippi River; the Illinois River downstream from Beardstown, Ill., to its confluence with the Mississippi River; and tributaries of these rivers in central and eastern Missouri and in west central and southwest Illinois.

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The NWS cautions that the flood outlook is based on current stream flows and soil moisture over the area, upstream snowpack in the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois river basins and forecast rainfall over the next two weeks to three months.

By last month, even before the more recent storms, export terminals and barge operators were reporting a “return to normalcy” for river levels—and barge rates, according to Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition.  “This is particularly the case along the Lower Mississippi River,” he said in a mid-February email. “Much improvement has occurred in the corridor between St. Louis and Cairo, Ill., but we have [still] had some recent barge loading restrictions due to lower water levels.”

He continued, “Overall…we are pleased to be in a better place than we were in the fall/early winter of 2022.”