Heavy rains this weekend could create Missouri River flooding problems

With water levels already high in some spots along the Missouri River, forecasters and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers say they are hoping heavy rainfall steers clear of the area this weekend.

Parts of eastern Nebraska and western Iowa have been hammered in the past week by extreme rains, putting the Missouri River near flood stage at Omaha and above flood stage at Brownville and Rulo, Nebraska.

The Missouri probably can handle showers over the weekend, officials said, but a heavy downpour or two could send the river over its banks in some locations.

Through Thursday, Eppley Airfield had reported 5.84 inches of rainfall this month, including 3.02 since Sunday.

The weekend forecast for the Omaha area, according to the National Weather Service office in Valley, calls for a decent chance of showers and thunderstorms Saturday, a slight chance Saturday night and Sunday morning and a good chance Sunday. Sunday’s storms could produce heavy rainfall in some places.

The Omaha area is under a marginal risk for severe weather Sunday afternoon into Sunday night, the weather service said.

“We’ll be keeping a really close eye on the situation this weekend,” said Brian Barjenbruch, a weather service meteorologist. “The wild card is we expect more rain.”

The Missouri River was at 22.5 feet at Omaha on Friday, just a bit above the norm of 15 to 22 feet but well below flood stage of 29 feet.

At flood stage, Barjenbruch said, N.P. Dodge Park in Omaha, Haworth Park in Bellevue and Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park in Council Bluffs would experience flooding. The casino parking lots in the Bluffs would begin flooding at 25 feet.

Barjenbruch said the Missouri River is forecast to be at 26 to 27 feet by Wednesday, and that’s without any additional big rains.

The weather service has issued a flood warning for the Missouri River at Brownville, where the river was 1.5 feet above flood stage, and for Rulo, where the water was about a half-foot above flood stage. Lowland flooding was occurring Friday on both sides of the river.

The high waters in the Missouri and its tributaries and the Big Sioux River in northwest Iowa can be blamed primarily on the recent heavy rainfall, said the corps’ Eileen Williamson, deputy chief of public affairs for the northwestern division.

Williamson said heavy rains and snow melt in North Dakota and Montana have been handled well by the corps’ six dams in those two states and South Dakota. The dams still have 40 percent storage capacity left, she said.

Releases from Gavins Point Dam at Yankton, South Dakota, were cut recently from 43,000 cubic feet per second to 36,000, she said. Releases are set to return to higher levels next week, depending on the weather.

“We’re watching forecasts and making adjustments every day,” Williamson said.

More “unregulated runoff,” or heavy rainfall, this weekend could cause major problems into next week along the Missouri, she said.

“Continued rains will keep making their way into the river,” she said, possibly leading to flooding downstream.

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