Iowa rivers can’t hold incessant rainfall

DES MOINES — Rain forecast to fall this week over Iowa’s already swollen river basins has residents bracing for the first significant floods in three years.


The Iowa River spilled out of its banks in Marshalltown and spilled over Iowa 14, closing down a main entry point to the city. Waters crested at a record level Monday night.

Jens Manuel Krogstad, USA TODAY12:53 p.m. EDT May 29, 2013

More flooding expected as soggy month continues across the state.

iowa flooding 052813

A truck sits partially submerged Tuesday in the Iowa River near a flooded home along Iowa 30 between Tama and Marshalltown (Photo: Mary Chind, The Des Moines Register)

Story Highlights
  • River levels aren’t expected to top heights seen in 1993, 2008
  • Governor already has issued disaster proclamation for 13 of 99 Iowa counties
  • One man is presumed dead after his SUV was swept away

DES MOINES — Rain forecast to fall this week over Iowa’s already swollen river basins has residents bracing for the first significant floods in three years.

The National Weather Service expects minor and moderate flooding across Iowa, including in major population centers near here and Cedar Rapids. Water levels in the next week are not expected to approach heights seen during historic floods in 1993 and 2008.

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Floods are blamed for one death. Howard R. Hodson Sr., 71, of Ackley is presumed dead after rushing water swept away his SUV Monday near Parkersburg, Butler County sheriff’s officials said.

Steady May showers mean the soil can’t absorb more moisture, forcing water to run off into rivers already at or near flood stage. In response, Iowans in some parts of the state heaved sandbags as officials closed beaches, parks and roads.

Gov. Terry Branstad issued a disaster proclamation for 13 northwest and central Iowa counties, authorizing state resources to help recovery efforts.

Thunderstorms rushed through southern Iowa for hours Tuesday evening, dropping heavy rain along with brief spurts of hail.

A storm spotter said all the streets in tiny Melrose, with a population of a little more than 100, were under water. Flash flooding was also reported near Ottumwa.

The National Weather Service said Chariton received 2.14 inches in just a few hours. Ottumwa got 1.98 inches.

Sandbags were piled high at Iowa State University in Ames and the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

Iowa State officials placed floodgates to protect Hilton Coliseum and nearby buildings, including three residence halls, officials said.

At UofI, officials relocated 84 students at the Mayflower residence hall.

052813 iowa flood prep 2

Burlington, Iowa, workers Jamey Sweeden, left, and Mark Runnells, right, prepare temporary barriers May 28, 2013, for potential flooding later this week. (Photo: Brenna Norman, AP)

Chris Bolden was one of just a few students in his dorm Tuesday in the nearly vacant Mayflower.

The University of Southern Mississippi senior arrived Sunday in Iowa City for the university’s summer program in microbiology but was told Tuesday he has to relocate by Wednesday night.

Bolden said he doesn’t mind that the university is taking precautionary measures against flooding, and it helps that he has a truck to haul his things.

“I understand,” he said. “I used to work in a residence hall, so I understand the need to move everyone to safety.”

Rod Lehnertz, UofI’s director of planning, design and construction, said university officials will meet daily with city and county officials to keep abreast of the situation and coordinate efforts, which could include sandbags and flood barriers in more areas if necessary.

Numerous UofI buildings were severely damaged or destroyed in the 2008 floods; some are still being rebuilt.

The Des Moines area could see 1 to 3 inches of rain through Friday, much of it falling Wednesday night into Thursday. This area already has seen 6.7 inches of rain in May this year. That’s more than double last May’s total, said Jeff Johnson, a National Weather Service meteorologist here.

The good news: Cities hit hardest in historic floods in 1993 and 2008 are expected, for now, to avoid severe damage, he said.

“It’s been bad,” Johnson said of floods in pockets of the state. “But when we compare to these historical major floods, it’s not there yet. I’m not saying it won’t be there eventually, but right now it’s not there.”

In central Iowa, minor to moderate flooding is expected for the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers from north of Fort Dodge to south of Des Moines, the weather service said.

With the Des Moines River filling Saylorville Lake north of Des Moines, the lake is expected to rise about 30 feet in the next few days.

The lake, created by the Saylorville Dam, is expected to crest nearly 14 feet below an emergency spillway.

The Cedar River in eastern Iowa is expected to cause minor flooding in Waterloo and Cedar Rapids, and moderate flooding in Cedar Falls, the weather service said.

Meanwhile, the city of Iowa City began moving its amusement park rides Tuesday out of flood-prone Lower City Park.

Officials in Johnson County received good news Tuesday when projections showed the Iowa River during the next week will stay below the Coralville Dam spillway. Any flooding should be relatively minor because the lake is expected to crest about a foot under the spillway, according to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projections.

Officials across the state emphasized a change in the forecast could cause flood risks to rapidly change.

“Do I think it’s going to change? Absolutely. Do I know what it’s going to change to? I do not,” said Dave Wilson, coordinator for Johnson County Emergency Management. “We’re crossing our fingers and hoping we can get some storage capacity at the lake and the rain takes it easy on the Iowa watershed.”

More reasons to create a American Canal project!


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