Just how significant was the drought in 2012? Last year marked the first time since the Hannibal flood levee was completed in 1993 that the city did not have to set any of its flood gates.
While there are no plans to set any flood gates yet, the Mississippi River has been steadily rising after recent precipitation.
In the Hannibal area, snow storms a week apart dumped nearly 20 inches of snow on America’s Hometown. Rain from Friday to Sunday combined with warm temperatures to melt what was left of the standing ice and snow, and added up to 5 inches of precipitation into the region’s waterways. The Salt, North Fabius and South Fabius rivers near Hannibal are at or near flood stage, with the Mark Twain Lake also rising fast.
No one is more aware of how quickly the river is rising than John Hark, the city’s emergency management director.
“Last Thursday we were at 10 feet and soon we’ll be at 18 feet. That’s not a week. An 8-foot increase, that’s a lot of water,” he said, noting that technical flood stage in Hannibal is 16 feet. “Starting about March 16 or 17 it heads back down to 16 feet pretty quick and be back to 16 feet by March 19, unless something changes in the next 12 to 24 hours.”
Hannibal is not the only spot on the river that has surpassed flood stage. The National Weather Service said the river Tuesday afternoon was at 26.49 feet in Clarksville — 1.5 feet above technical flood stage — and is expected to rise another 1.6 feet to 28.1 feet by Saturday morning.
The river at Louisiana also is expected to reach about 3 feet above flood stage by Thursday evening.
Hark would not be surprised to see the river rise again later this spring.
“We know in the areas that really count - northern Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota - they still have a lot of winter time left and have a lot of snow,” he said.
Unless the river forecast is revised higher, little prep work will need to be done in Hannibal to keep the river at bay.
“We do shut the gate wells at Center Street and the pump station so the river can’t back up into those storm sewers,” said Hark. “As far as setting the flood gates themselves, we don’t have to. We still have some wiggle room before we have to set.”
The flood gates at Hill and Center streets would not be set until the river was predicted to reach at least 20 feet. The remaining three gates would only go in if the river was forecast to hit 21 feet or higher.
“Is there any panic here? Absolutely not. Is there any caution we’re going to be using? Yeah, since the river is going to be back up to a normal pool and is going to be holding its normal level. Snow melt, heavy spring rains, a lot of things can change compared to last year when we had a drought,” said Hark.
Page 2 of 2 - The recent rounds of snow and rain done more than push the river up. Mark Fuchs, a hydrologist with the weather service near St. Louis, said the precipitation has ended concern about the drought in parts of Missouri, given that “really for the last month we’ve been well above average precipitation and catching up in a hurry.”
Climatologists caution that the moisture — a blessing after a disastrous, bone-dry 2012 across much of the nation’s Corn Belt — doesn’t signal the end of the stubborn drought still with a hold on more than half the continental U.S.
What happens in the next couple of months, they said, could be more telling. That’s when the frozen ground will thaw and water that had been running off into the Mississippi or Missouri rivers and their tributaries could sink in.
Just over half of the continental U.S. remains in some form of drought — the lowest level since last June and down 12 percentage points from the drought’s peak in September.
(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)