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Friday, July 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Floodwaters inundate Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota

Forecasters are hoping the region does not get any more rain for a while, but storms are a possibility later in the week.

OMAHA, Neb. (CN) — Massive flooding in the upper Midwest over the weekend disrupted the lives of thousands, triggered evacuations, collapsed a bridge, threatened a dam and led to the death of at least one person.

As rivers crested and the water flowed south into the Missouri River, flooding was expected to take place downstream, well into Missouri. But at Omaha and downstream, flooding was expected to be contained within levee systems.

The flooding was the fallout of an “extremely wet spring,” followed by a series of storms Thursday and Friday that followed each other on the same path like train cars behind a locomotive, said Todd Heitkamp, the meteorologist in charge at National Weather Service in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

“That rain has nowhere to go. It’s not going to go into the ground because the ground is saturated. It’s going to go into the rivers and then you have flooding,” Heitkamp told Courthouse News. “Because it can’t be absorbed by the ground or the crops or anything like that.”

Sioux Falls received 10.8 inches of rain so far in June. At this time last year, it had only received 1.3 inches, Heitkamp said.

The result was a litany of bad news for residents of Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota.

Most of Rock Valley, Iowa, a city of 4,000, was evacuated on Saturday. Waters started overtopping the levees along the Big Sioux River in Sioux City, Iowa, and residents of the Riverside neighborhood were told Monday to be ready to evacuate.

In far southeast South Dakota, homes around McCook Lake were badly damaged. And a nearby BNSF Railroad bridge linking North Sioux City, South Dakota, and Sioux City, Iowa, collapsed into the Big Sioux River late Sunday night. Officials closed Interstate 29 on Sunday to accommodate a levee.

A 87-year-old man in the Harrisburg area, near Sioux Falls, died after backing a utility terrain vehicle over a section of washed-out road, news nonprofit South Dakota Searchlight reported.

In Minnesota, the Rapidan Dam on the Blue Earth River near Mankato was at high risk of imminent failure Monday.

“Our agencies are in close contact with Blue Earth County and other local officials regarding the Rapidan Dam near Mankato. Emergency management is on the ground and acting quickly to ensure the safety of Minnesotans as the situation develops,” Minnesota Governor Tim Walz said on Twitter on Monday afternoon.

The heavy rainfall drove up humidity along the region’s rivers. Weather service maps showed green and purple up and down the Missouri River separating Nebraska and Iowa on Monday — green for a flood warning, purple for an excessive heat warning.

As of 5:20 P.M. Central Time in Sioux City, the temperature was 95 degrees with a heat index of 111.

The flooding, “adds to the amount of moisture in the air, so the heat is going to increase because the relative humidity is just so high,” said Heitkamp. “That’s the reason for the purple … The heat isn’t that extreme, but when you combine that with the amount of moisture in the air, that’s when you start dealing with the dangerous levels.”

The Missouri River was expected to crest at Sioux City on Monday evening and at points downriver later in the week. A crest of 35.1 feet was expected in Omaha on Thursday, roughly 8 feet above flood stage, a level classified as “moderate” by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But flooding downstream of St. Joseph, Missouri, was expected to be minor.

“Most of the flooding will be contained within the levees, at least in the Omaha south through Kansas City area. There will be some ag impacts, possibly some roadway closures, but no population centers at risk at this time,” said John Remus, chief Missouri River Basin Waste Management for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, during a phone briefing to reporters and local officials Monday.

Remus also said he was not worried about the massive dams on the upper Missouri — such as Fort Randall and Gavins Point— in light of the possible Minnesota dam failure.

“We are doing monitoring of those dams just as part of our routine efforts when we get high floods,” he said. “But there are no dam safety issues on the Missouri River.”

Up in Sioux Falls, Heitkamp was looking at the possibility of storms Thursday night and into Friday.

“The main thing over the next seven to ten days is, we need to keep all the rain away,” he said. “Hopefully it is not going to be anything significant because we need a period of dry weather to dry things out around here.”

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Categories / Environment, National, Regional, Uncategorized, Weather

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