August 6, 2013

More rain on top of water-logged area leaves forecasters ‘very concerned’ about flooding in central, south-central Kansas

Rain records are falling like, well, rain as flood warnings and watches have been extended into Thursday for water-logged south-central and central Kansas.

Rain records are falling like, well, rain as flood warnings and watches have been extended into Thursday for water-logged south-central and central Kansas.

While there was another chance of showers Tuesday night, heavier amounts of rain are expected Wednesday afternoon through Thursday morning, said Jerilyn Billings, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wichita.

During that period, forecasts call for 1.5 to 4 inches of rain, with the higher amounts expected to be north of Wichita up to I-70. Wichita could see up to 3 inches overnight Wednesday.

“We’re very concerned about Wednesday night into Thursday,” Billings said. “The rain is not stopping. It’s not what we need for our part of Kansas. We have taken on enough.

“Our biggest concern is flooding.”

State officials warned people to be careful around swollen rivers and creeks. In recent days, one person drowned in Allen County, and a 9-year-old girl had to be rescued from the Kansas River in Wamego.

“I want to urge people to avoid playing in or around a flooded stream,” said Robin Jennison, the state’s secretary for Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. “There may be dangerous floating debris, hidden underwater obstacles and treacherous currents.

“Don’t try to launch a boat or swim in the water. Even fishing or walking along the bank can be dangerous, because the bank may be slippery or easily collapse.”

Wichita has seen 5.83 inches of rain through the first five days of August. That’s the most rain for that period since records were first kept in 1888. The previous high for those five days was 4.22 inches in 1911.

It has been raining off and on in Kansas since July 21, with Wichita getting 13.4 inches from that date through Monday – the second-highest amount of rain for that period since 1888, the weather service said.

Wichita, Hutchinson, Newton, El Dorado and Emporia are all under flood warnings, as are counties in far southeastern Kansas, according to the weather service. McPherson, Great Bend and Ellsworth are under a flood watch.

More downpours will only worsen conditions for areas hardest hit by storms, such as Reno and Harvey counties, and will continue to keep people out of their homes and close more roads.

Water in Wichita

All that water dumping into Cow Creek and the Arkansas River upstream means even higher volumes of water rushing through the rivers downstream.

“We’re expecting to see quite a bit of water coming through,” said Alan King, Wichita’s director of public works and utilities.

Since the middle of last week, the city has been diverting water from the Arkansas River into the Big Ditch, King said. Both are seeing their highest flow rates in more than six years, he added.

The river is flowing at 14,000 cubic feet per second, well above its normal rate of 300 cubic feet per second. The Big Ditch is flowing at 7,000 feet per second.

The combined 21,000 cubic feet per second for the two is still far short of their total capacity of 60,000, King said.

“But we’re monitoring it very closely,” King said.

The Big Ditch has two levels of banks, but officials try to keep the water below the second level. As of Tuesday, the water was about 2 or 3 feet short of climbing above the first level.

The gates at the Arkansas River’s Lincoln Street dam are down all the way, “so the river is flowing through as fast as it can,” King said.

The river’s fast flow also may be taking a toll on a sidewalk along the east bank just south of the Lincoln Street dam. Water has eroded the soil underneath the sidewalk, so barricades have been put up to keep people away, King said.

“We don’t know if it was caused by the high flows,” he added. “The sidewalk should have been designed to handle the high flows.”

Crews on Tuesday were temporarily shoring up the area by putting in rock. After the river recedes, a permanent repair will be made, King said.

City officials also said Tuesday that the fire feature at the “Keeper of the Plains” won’t be operated until the water level in the Arkansas River drops.

The rain continues to replenish Cheney Reservoir. As of Tuesday afternoon, the lake’s conservation pool – where Wichita gets 40 percent of its water – was more than 93 percent full. That’s almost 20 percentage points higher than it was in early June.

There are reports of 11 inches of rain over the past eight days in southwest Harvey County.

Storm cleanup

Meanwhile, areas surrounding Wichita were picking up the pieces Tuesday after another storm rolled in Monday night.

High winds tore through Pratt and El Dorado, ripping down trees, overturning a camper and smashing a boat dock at El Dorado Reservoir, authorities said.

Seth Turner, El Dorado’s state park manager, estimated the area saw 4 to 4.5 inches of rain during a storm that hit between 11 and 11:30 p.m.

Pratt was busy Tuesday repairing downed power lines and cutting up tree branches after sustained winds of 80 to 110 mph tore through the area, said Pratt County Emergency Management Director Tim Branscom.

Some metal buildings at Pratt’s airport were damaged, but Branscom said there was no report of significant damage to homes.

Starting Monday, the city of Newton will begin picking up residents’ tree limbs downed by this week’s storm.

Residents are responsible for getting the limbs to the curb, according to a news release. Crews plan to pass by each residence only once. Cleanup is expected to take several weeks to complete.

If residents would like to get rid of their storm debris more quickly, they may obtain a free landfill coupon from the city’s utility building office. The coupon will allow them to take one free load to the Harvey County Transfer Station on Southwest 24th Street.

Water in Reno County

All of this rain follows two years of drought. Hutchinson has seen some of the worst flash flooding after 7 inches of rain fell over a three-day period through Monday.

“I think we’re trying to make up for it in a week,” Reno County Emergency Management Director Bill Guy said. “We have enough water.”

He already has a long list of roads closed in his county. Two bridges are also out.

The 2 to 2.5 inches of rain that fell in Nickerson on Monday night will make matters worse for Cow Creek, which was already above flood stage upstream in Lyons.

“That’s not good,” Guy said. “I really feel badly for the folks who haven’t been able to get into their houses because of water either in them or around them.”

He said he couldn’t give an estimate of how many people have been displaced by high water, because most of the people are staying with friends or relatives. Two shelters at Hutchinson churches that were open earlier in the week have closed, he added.

A mobile home park on East Blanchard in Hutchinson has reopened after being closed because of high water, Guy said.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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