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Mississippi River crests to challenge historic floods even as rain departs

By Alex Sosnowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist
May 03, 2019, 1:46:21 AM EDT

Major flooding is forecast to continue through this weekend and beyond along portions of the Mississippi and James rivers.

Many rivers throughout the central United States remain above flood stage or just below flood stage. Much of the high water has been set into motion from heavy snowfall this past winter that melted and combined with heavy rain more than a month ago.

However, more recent episodes of heavy rain have caused water levels on some of the major rivers to surge again. Additional bouts of heavy rain, albeit localized, can lead to more episodes of flooding through the end of the spring and perhaps into part of the summer.

River Flooding

Soggy ground and/or high water has planting behind in parts of the Plains and Midwest, according to AccuWeather Agricultural Meteorologist Dale Mohler.

"If the problem persists, some farmers may be forced to plant less productive, shorter-season varieties of corn and other crops," Mohler said.

The Mississippi River has crested or is forecast to crest within a few feet of record stage over a large swath of Iowa and Illinois this week. The record stage at many locations was set during the great floods of 1993, 1965 or 2001.

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At Rock Island, Illinois, the Mississippi surpassed the record 22.63-foot mark from July 9, 1993, during Thursday afternoon.

Rock Island Gauge

Rock Island is just across the river from Davenport, Iowa, where a temporary flood barrier broke on Tuesday and caused a portion of the downtown area to take on water.

Rock Island flooding

Flooding surrounding the two bridges connecting Davenport with Rock Island forced officials to close some access points to the bridges.

Farther upstream, the Mississippi recently crested at Dubuque, Bellevue and Camanche, Iowa.

Farther downstream, a late-week or weekend crest is forecast at Muscatine, Burlington and Keokuk, Iowa, and Keithsburg and Gladstone, Illinois.

24 hour rainfall Tues to Wed Noon

This image shows 24-hour rainfall (inches) ending at 11 a.m. CDT Wednesday over the central United States. (NOAA)

Farther south, along the borders of Missouri and Illinois, a crest at moderate to major flood stage will not occur until next week.

The core of the heavy rain will settle south of Iowa, northern Missouri and northern and central Illinois into this weekend, which should help the situation somewhat.

Late-week US

In the long-term, heavy rainfall events are forecast to be infrequent enough to allow flooding conditions to slowly improve over a large part of the North Central states into this summer.

The James River remains at major flood stage in South Dakota. While the James is receding, it is doing so very slowly and may not drop below minor flood stage for many weeks.

Meanwhile, flooding will be an ongoing concern for south-central parts of the U.S.

"We expect periodic trouble along the middle to lower Mississippi basin well into this summer," according to AccuWeather Lead Long-Range Meteorologist Paul Pastelok.

"What may save this part of the Mississippi from a widespread disaster will be lower water levels, relatively speaking, along the Ohio River," Pastelok said.

The Ohio River is a major contributor to water levels on the lower Mississippi River. As long as no moderate to major flooding occurs on the Ohio, in conjunction with flooding along the Mississippi and other contributors, it should take the edge off flooding into this summer.

Periods of high water and flooding are still likely over the middle and lower part of the Mississippi River and other rivers over the South Central states for the balance of this spring and much of the summer, even though soil evaporation rates are typically very high during this time.

Download the free AccuWeather app to stay alert to flood warnings and the rainfall forecast in your area. Keep checking back for updates on and stay tuned to the AccuWeather Network on DirecTV, Frontier and Verizon Fios.

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