As Kansans spent much of Tuesday trying to dry out from a soggy Memorial Day weekend, many were also bracing for another round of rain that could potentially cause serious flooding.
Several areas in Kansas already face flooding issues.
The northwestern McPherson County town of Marquette, which borders the Smoky Hill River, received more than 4.5 inches of rain in 90 minutes on Monday, said Steve Piper, owner of Piper’s Fine Foods. The town of 650 people is roughly 10 miles west of Lindsborg. Several basements flooded, he said.
On Tuesday, the National Weather Service in Wichita issued a flood warning for northeastern Rice County in central Kansas and for the Neosho River near Chanute. Cow Creek near Nickerson in Reno County is approaching minor flood levels.
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Wichita is closing in on the record for the most rain in May. The city has already received 11.16 inches of rain this month, good for third place. The record for most rain is 13.14 inches, set in 2008.
For now, said Butler County Emergency Director Jim Schmidt, as long as the rains come as brief storms, the area can probably manage the extra rainfall, although it may create some minor nuisance flooding.
“But if we get an extended period of heavy rainfall,” Schmidt said, “we could be facing the problems they are now having in Oklahoma and Texas.’
Avoid high water
The area has received so much rain that Jose Ocadiz, spokesman for the Wichita Fire Department, encouraged residents to be smart around rising floodwaters.
“The recent rains have caused area rivers, creeks and lakes to rise – creating dangerous conditions,” Ocadiz said. “Please use caution when walking near the edge of bodies of water, which can be slippery. High and fast-moving waters are more powerful than you realize. You can be swept away in a matter of seconds.”
Ocadiz cautioned people to remember that entering rivers during high water can be illegal in some areas and could result in arrest.
Because the current flow in many of the creeks and streams is so fast, it is often difficult to know the exact depth, Ocadiz said. Also, much of the ground is saturated around the moving bodies of water and can quickly give way.
Ocadiz said Tuesday that local firefighters are on standby and are training for water rescues.
More rain predicted
Emergency management officers in south-central Kansas say the chance of more rain is causing some concern.
“Our main threat was Saturday into Sunday, when the waterways and creeks rose so rapidly,” said Cowley County Emergency Management Director Brian Stone.
There was concern with the Walnut River as it passed from Winfield into Arkansas City and with the Arkansas River from Oxford in Sumner County to Arkansas City, Stone said.
But as areas north of Wichita, Newton and Hutchinson receive rain, the runoff goes into every watershed, creek and river.
“It causes concern because it had been dry enough over the past weeks and month that the initial onslaught of rain created some issues, but now with it being so saturated, another rain causes us concern,” Stone said.
In Reno County, emergency management coordinator Todd Strain said he has been watching Cow Creek north of Hutchinson, a common flooding area near Nickerson and west Hutchinson. One road in Reno County is already closed because of high water – Sallee from 82nd to 95th.
“If we get any more rain, minor flooding will occur,” he said.
Harvey County Emergency Management Director Lon Buller said he is watching the Little Arkansas Basin.
“If we get a big rain up north, it all impacts us as well,” Buller said. “That’s when the rise is going to occur.
“My biggest concern is if we get a big rain in Rice County, with a little bit into Ellsworth County and Reno County, we’ve got trouble.”
Farm ground, township roads and other low-lying areas along the Little Arkansas Basin could be affected – and could potentially cause flooding near U.S. 50 and near Halstead.
“Two-thirds of Harvey County drains into that,” Buller said. “If all those areas get a consistent rain fairly fast, that’s when our problems begin. I don’t think our ground can take anymore. It’s already just runoff now.”
On Sunday evening, the Butler County Emergency Management Agency posted on Facebook that the county’s 911 dispatchers were kept busy during Saturday’s rains as residents reported flooding of low-lying roads and county landmarks.
The “Augusta Lake finally over-topped the new spillway during the wee hours of the night,” Butler County’s entry read on Facebook. “As the flood waters surged over the concrete with a thunderous roar, the force of the flow actually caused nearby homes to vibrate.”
The incident caused people to flock to the lake and watch the lake’s historic overflow, Schmidt said.
Rain’s silver cloud
The next rain could push this year’s May rainfall into one of the wettest Mays in Wichita’s history.
“There is a really good chance that we’ll break into the two spot,” said Scott Smith, meteorologist at the National Weather Service. At No. 2 right now is May 1935, with 11.22 inches.
“I don’t see much of a pattern change for the next week or so; it looks rainy and stormy here just about every afternoon.”
The reason Wichita has received so much rain is that a ridge of low pressure has just been sitting out West, which acts like a spinning slingshot, throwing storms in Wichita’s direction, Smith said. Last year during the drought, a high-pressure system blocked all those storm systems from coming through Kansas.
The overall impact on the local economy could be positive, according to Jeremy Hill, the director for the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University. The primary benefit will be to farmers, who could see increased crop yields.
Even though the rain may keep people from spending money on restaurants or entertainment while it’s raining, the chances are high that they’ll spend their money in Wichita after it dries up, Hill said.
“It just shifts their spending to something else,” he said. “People only have so much discretionary spending. We tend to spend every little bit. It’s not that you won’t spend it just because it rained one day.”
Contributing: Salina Journal and Oliver Morrison of The Eagle