Record Flooding Expanding Over Lower Mississippi Valley

May 4, 2011; 7:18 AM ET
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Part of the 130,000 acres of farmland flooded by an intentional break in the Birds Point levee is seen on Tuesday in Mississippi County, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Residents downstream along the lower Mississippi River are bracing for the unprecedented flooding that will spill southward as this month progresses.

The mighty Mississippi River will not stop rising despite an absence of frequent heavy rain events through at least early next week.

It is virtually inevitable that the river will significantly overflow its banks in eastern Arkansas, western Mississippi and Louisiana as flood waters farther upstream drain southward to the Gulf of Mexico.

The lower Mississippi River is forecast by the National Weather Service's River Forecast Center to approach or surpass levels not seen since 1937, or in some cases 1927.

"[The flooding] could become yet another natural disaster for the U.S. this year," stated AccuWeather.com Expert Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

"Impacts will range from large agricultural and small farmsteads being swallowed by deep waters to unprotected small towns and portions of large cities being flooded by muddy inundations," Sosnowski added.

The river, along with neighboring parts of the Ohio River, remains near or at record levels in the vicinity of southeastern Missouri and southern Illinois.

Caruthersville, Mo., is the latest location along the Mississippi River to set a new record stage. Earlier this morning, the river exceeded the old record level of 46.0 feet.

Projections bring the river at Memphis, Tenn., to within a foot of the record stage of 48.70 feet in one week.

The river at Natchez, Miss., will remain below major flood stage through this weekend. However, the Mississippi is expected to rise to an unprecedented 65.0 feet in about 2.5 weeks.

The highest the river has ever been at this location is 58.04 feet on Feb. 21, 1937.

Record flooding will occur soon after in Baton Rouge, La., with a forecast crest of 47.5 feet.

Use of Floodways

In anticipation of the historic flooding, the Army Corps of Engineers told the Associated Press that they may use "floodways" to divert water from the swollen river.

The goal of these actions would be to relieve pressure on levees and save downstream towns and cities.

Such a tactic was used Monday night to prevent severe flooding in Cairo, Ill. The Army Corps blasted a portion of a levee to direct water from the river onto 130,000 acres of prime agricultural land in southeastern Missouri.

Explosives would not be needed at two floodways that lie in the Mississippi Delta.

The Morganza floodway in central Louisiana and the Bonnet Carre floodway north of New Orleans can be opened using gates, stated the Associated Press.

The Morganza floodway diverts some of the flow from the Mississippi River into the Atchafalaya Basin while the Bonnet Carre floodway diverts some of the flow from Old Man River to Lake Pontchartrain.

Flooding in the Middle of a Drought?

Folks in Mississippi and Louisiana along Old Man River may be used to getting someone else's water, but in this case, they are going to get more than they bargained for.

The prospect of record flooding may be hard to imagine along the shores of the river in southwestern Mississippi and Louisiana.

The United States Drought Monitor reported last Thursday that these places were in the midst of a moderate to severe drought. Since April 1, Baton Rouge has measured only 21 percent of the 6.10 inches of rain that typically falls.

The impending record flooding instead stems from the onslaught of rain endured farther upstream in the mid-Mississippi and Ohio valleys.

"Part of the area where the Mississippi and Ohio rivers meet has received over 2 feet of rain in a little over three weeks," stated Sosnowski.

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