Full Cheney Reservoir opens its floodgates
After days of rain and flooding in much of Kansas, Kansas got a brief break Wednesday, with no rain and sunny skies.
But forecasters predict chances for more rain for the rest of the week into next.
The National Weather Service branch in Wichita predicts rainfall in the state’s largest city to pick up again Wednesday night. The chance for rain continues every day through Memorial Day, forecasters say.
The storms come as the greater Wichita area received between 3 and 5 inches of rain Monday and through the night, NWS forecaster Roger Martin told The Eagle. South-central Kansas received between 4-7 inches of rain, he said.
Parts of Cowley County had 6.7 inches of rain as of Tuesday morning, and parts of Elk County had 7.8 inches of rain, according to the NWS local storm reports. The heaviest rainfall hit in areas along and east of the Kansas Turnpike, Martin said.
Flooding closed some rural highways and forced public school officials to cancel classes Tuesday in the town of Sedgwick.
In New Cambria, a town in Saline County, officials asked residents to voluntarily evacuate for up to 48 hours, the Associated Press reported. The National Weather Service predicts potentially record-breaking flooding along Mulberry Creek near Salina and the Smoky Hill River near New Cambria.
Many cities and counties in south-central and southeast Kansas are under a flood warning that in some cases extend through Saturday.
Residents living along the North Fork of the Ninnescah River were warned to watch water levels Wednesday and be prepared to move to higher ground. The Bureau of Reclamation began releasing water from Cheney Reservoir at 6 a.m. Wednesday. Even with the release of water, Cheney is forecast to reach a record height.
The weather service said in a hazardous weather outlook that storms Tuesday afternoon and night would mainly affect central and south-central portions of the state.
“A few strong to marginally severe storms will be possible with hail up to quarters, winds 50 to 60 mph and a brief weak tornado cannot be ruled out,” the NWS said. “Widespread areal flooding and river flooding will continue across the region.”
The weather service predicts occasional thunderstorms — some severe — through Monday.
Forecasters said the continued rain could bring record flooding to the Little Arkansas River near Sedgwick, Halstead and Alta Mill; the Arkansas River near Haven, Derby and Mulvane; the Smoky Hill River near New Cambria; Mulberry Creek near Salina; and Cow Creek near Hutchinson. Minor flooding is expected along Cowskin Creek near 119th Street
In far southeast Kansas, a tornado passed near Pittsburg Monday, and winds associated with the storm caused damage on the south side of the town. While the NWS office in Springfield, Missouri, has not yet confirmed the tornado, the weather service’s local storm report included three tornadoes near the town Monday afternoon.
Crawford County Emergency Manager Jason Vanbecelaere said that one of the tornadoes passed about a half of a mile south of Pittsburg, damaging outbuildings and other structures in the rural area outside of the city. Damage on the south side of the town, including at Pittsburg State University was caused by winds from the storm associated with the tornado, but not the tornado itself, he said.
City of Pittsburg spokeswoman Sarah Runyon said there was damage to outbuildings and secondary structures, shingles blown off houses, wind damage, large trees down and downed power lines.
Gov. Laura Kelly added another seven counties to the state disaster declaration. Counties on the list include Barber, Barton, Butler, Chase, Cherokee, Clark, Cloud, Cowley, Dickinson, Geary, Greenwood, Harvey, Kingman, Lyon, Marion, McPherson, Meade, Morris, Neosho, Osage, Ottawa, Pottawatomie, Pratt, Reno, Rice, Sumner, Wabaunsee and Wilson. The declaration authorizes the use of state resources and personnel to assist with response and recovery operations.
“Many Kansas counties have been impacted by severe weather and flooding in recent weeks,” Kelly said in a statement. “With more rain and severe weather on the way, Kansans should be cautious, follow weather warnings, and avoid flood waters. The Kansas Division of Emergency Management’s Emergency Operations Center will be activated today to assist with the flood and weather response.”
Unlike rainstorms earlier this month, the Kansas Turnpike has not been closed. The interstate was shut down between the Oklahoma border and Wellington after I-35 was flooded May 7. It was reopened two days later after the rain stopped, floodwater receded and road work crews repaired damage.
No state or federal highways had been closed due to flooding in Sedgwick County, as of Tuesday afternoon, but some neighboring counties have highway closures. In Sumner County, U.S. 177 was closed from the Oklahoma state line to the junction with U.S. 81. In Cowley County, K-15 was closed in the area of the bridge over Grouse Creek. In Reno and Harvey counties, U.S. 50 was closed from Hutchinson to Newton.
More information on highway road closures is available online at www.kandrive.org. Not all flooded roads are reported to local or state officials.
In southeast Kansas, Trooper Rick Wingate warned that there is a lot of flooding in the area.
“Turn your lights on, slow down, and don’t drive through water across the road,” he said after a crash in flooded water.
Harvey County Undersheriff Shawn Chapman said the steady rainfall led to flooding on county roads — and many have been closed — but no injuries or stalled vehicles had been reported Tuesday morning.
“We had people trying to ignore barricades or drive through standing water with the flooding earlier this month. I cannot stress enough how dangerous that is,” Chapman said in a news release. “People have got to take the danger of flooded roads seriously. Find a different route.”
Lt. Justin Parks with the Arkansas City Fire Department said firefighters rescued one person from a home after water levels started to rise and trap them inside just before 10 a.m. Tuesday.
In Wichita, overnight storm water crews cleared 282 clogged inlets and inspected over 1,000, according to a tweet from the city. As of Tuesday afternoon, no flooding or structure damage had been reported to city officials.
“All pump stations, and Lincoln Street Dam are operating normally,” the city said.
Dave Davis with Plumbing Pros said he has “never seen anything like this” and he’s extremely busy fixing sump pumps.
“What’s great is that people are finding out if their basements ever leak because if it doesn’t leak now, it never will,” he said.
Looking forward, Martin said area residents can expect some rain throughout the next five to seven days as we’re “still in a pretty active (weather) pattern.”
Contributing: Kaitlyn Alanis of The Eagle