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Heavy rains bring flood warnings in 11 Kansas counties; more chances for precipitation

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, July 30, 2013, at 8:29 a.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, at 2:53 p.m.

The rain has stopped – but maybe not for long.

Emergency managers say they are nervous about the forecast over the next few days.

“We have really good chances for more precipitation … the really heavy rain producers,” said Scott Smith, a meteorologist with the weather service’s Wichita branch. “The potential for more flooding looks to be pretty promising, unfortunately.”

Rain is expected to return to the region late Thursday, with chances persisting through the weekend and into early next week.

Already, flood warnings have been issued in 11 counties across central, eastern and southeastern Kansas by the National Weather Service. One of the warnings is for the Little Arkansas River in Sedgwick, which straddles Sedgwick and Harvey counties.

Only minor flooding is forecast in the Sedgwick area before the river falls below flood stage early Wednesday morning, the weather service reported.

Dillard Webster, director of the McPherson County Emergency Management Agency, said he’ll be keeping an eye on the Smoky Hill River, which could create a fresh round of headaches for McPherson County as runoff swells the river.

“We may have to contend with that before it’s all said and done,” Webster said.

‘Blinding downpour’

The swollen rivers followed torrential rains Monday and early Tuesday in eastern and southern Kansas.

Nearly 7 inches of rain fell in Chanute in southeast Kansas, while nearly 6 inches was reported in Lindsborg in McPherson County. Flash flooding prompted the evacuation of eight square blocks in Lindsborg, where the rain fell at the rate of 4 inches an hour for a while on Monday.

Flash flooding inundated an estimated 125 homes in Lindsborg, causing an estimated $2.5 million in damage, City Administrator Greg DuMars said Tuesday after a door-to-door assessment. The damage figures are tentative, he said, and a firmer estimate is expected to be compiled Wednesday.

Rainfall totals of 5 and 6 inches were common in northern Harvey County and sections of McPherson County.

“I’ve been out in some pretty rough stuff,” Webster said. “That came down as hard as I’ve ever seen. You absolutely could not even see the side of the road. That was a blinding downpour.”

Moundridge was also hit by street flooding from heavy rains, Webster said. Several residents were dealing with flooded basements, and sandbags were deployed to protect six houses from the Black Kettle Creek that runs through town.

“We do have a pretty good volume of damage” across the county, Webster said.

Emergency crews used boats to evacuate about 35 or 40 people from their homes, Webster said. One injury was reported.

The American Red Cross opened an emergency shelter at Smoky Valley High School in Lindsborg to help those affected by the flood, though no one spent the night there.

“They stayed with friends or family,” Webster said of the residents displaced by the flood waters.

Please stay home

Five buildings flooded at Bethel College in North Newton, with the most significant damage at the basketball gymnasium, where the floor was ruined, spokeswoman Lori Livengood said.

A large group of people worked until 2 a.m. Tuesday trying to get water out of the buildings at Bethel College using fans, buckets and mops, she said. Sandbags used at one of the residence halls were successful in keeping water out.

The Harvey County Sheriff’s Office pleaded with motorists via Facebook to stay home from work Tuesday morning after several commuters had to be rescued from vehicles that became stranded in flood waters.

“When beginning your commute, ask yourself, ‘Is it worth it?’ If it isn’t, please stay home and off the roads!” a statement on the agency’s Facebook page read.

Numerous roads in Harvey County were closed Tuesday morning because of flood waters, authorities said, and rising rivers could pose more problems as runoff reaches waterways in the region.

Water over turnpike

Flood waters closed the Kansas Turnpike for more than an hour between El Dorado and Emporia on Monday night. Waters covered the turnpike in three locations between Mile Marker 99, which is two miles north of Matfield Green, and Mile Marker 105, said Rachel Bell, communications manager for the Kansas Turnpike Association.

“The water at 105 really had more to do with a lot of debris clogging up the drainage in the middle of the road,” Bell said.

Although several vehicles hydroplaned into the ditch along the turnpike because of excessive speed, Bell said no vehicles were swept from the road by flood waters.

In 2003, six people died in a flash flood on the turnpike at Jacob Creek, near Mile Marker 116 in northern Chase County, next to the Lyon County line. A wall of water swept away concrete barriers and numerous vehicles that had become stalled in water covering the turnpike on Labor Day weekend 10 years ago.

While an estimated 3 to 4 inches of rain fell in a short time over the Jacob Creek drainage basin of the Flint Hills, according to the weather service, flooding was never a threat at that location.

“The Jacob Creek alert system never went off,” Bell said.

An enlarged concrete drainage box was installed after the deadly flood and an alert system was created to warn authorities of rising waters within the box. The first warning sounds when water passing through the box rises to 2 or 3 feet, Bell said, and it never sounded Monday night.

Scott Whitmore, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Topeka, said turnpike officials dodged a potential headache at Jacob Creek with this storm.

“The heaviest rain was just south of Jacob Creek” in the Verdigris River drainage basin, Whitmore said. Rainfall totals of 6 to 9 inches – and probably more – were widespread nearby.

The Jacob Creek flood of 2003 “crossed my mind” as the heavy rains were hammering the Flint Hills near there Monday, Whitmore said.

Wichita escapes

Wichita escaped the heavy rains Monday and early Tuesday.

Jabara Airport reported 1.38 inches of rain in northeast Wichita on Monday, but just .02 fell in the western side of the city.

“It looks like for the most part we’ll be dry for the next couple of days,” Smith said. “That will help things out.”

Meanwhile, heavy rains have boosted water levels at Cheney Reservoir almost back to where they were a year ago, Wichita officials said Tuesday.

Cheney’s lake levels are up 3 percent since July 19, to 74.30 percent, just 0.32 of a percent less than they were on July 30, 2012, said Ben Nelson, the city’s public works strategy manager.

“So it’s made some notable gains during the recent rainfall,” Nelson said.

City officials expect those gains to continue.

More rain coming

The atmospheric setup that has fueled a week of substantial rains shows no signs of shifting, Smith said. Energy impulses are riding an upper-level jet stream from the Rockies southeast across Kansas, where they’re colliding with abundant moisture pouring north from the Gulf of Mexico.

“We’re just stuck in this same pattern,” Smith said, calling it “a perfect setup for these heavy rain events.”

“Two days isn’t quite enough time to dry out,” Smith said. “With only 1 to 2 inches of rain, you could possibly see some street flooding and creek flooding and rivers responding again.

“It’s not going to take much at all.”

Contributing: Bill Wilson of The Eagle and Associated Press

Reach Stan Finger at 316-268-6437 or sfinger@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @StanFinger.

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