If there is one single harbinger of spring along the river, it’s not the departure of the eagles or the arrival of budding flowers. It’s the rising of the waters.
March is the time when emergency management officials start to keep an eye on the rise and fall of the Mississippi River as spring rains pick up. But the smaller tributaries flowing into the river are often even more volatile, their water levels changing drastically and often at a moment’s notice.
Case in point: As I was driving to Palmyra yesterday, I passed over the North River just north of town. It was out of its banks and spilling into adjacent fields west of U.S. 61. Another glance on the drive back to Quincy revealed that it was even worse on the east side of the highway. It was hardly a surprise after Sunday night’s intense storms, and the National Weather Service’s hydrograph for the North River confirms that — river levels had spiked from 5 feet all the way up to 18.6 feet by 8 a.m. Monday (moderate flooding begins at 16 feet) before dropping back down to 8.7 feet by 8 a.m. today.
The record along the North River, 21.5 feet, was set during last summer’s heavy rains. In repairing the road damage that flooding caused, Marion County burned through the surplus it thought it would have last year. That was even in the absence of any significant flooding along the Mississippi River, which the National Weather Service has predicted for this year.
John Hark, the county’s and Hannibal’s emergency management director, spoke last month about flood preparations for this spring and summer in light of the NWS’ predictions. He was as concerned about tributaries like the North River and Hannibal’s Bear Creek — which devastated the south side of Hannibal in a flash flood last July that lasted just an hour — as he was about the Mississippi. When a single heavy storm can raise the waters well past moderate flooding levels, that’s certainly cause for concern.
As spring starts, so, too, do the flood worries. Be careful out there, folks.