Second crest of Mississippi River is expected
Early flood predictions were high enough to cause plenty of worry along the riverfront, but it's beginning to look like the flood of 2011 will be much tamer than originally expected. The latest National Weather Service forecast puts the flood crest at 17.5 feet on March 31, almost four feet lower than predicted last week. By April 6, the water is expected to recede back to 15.9 feet.
As of 6 a.m. Thursday, the river was at 17.42 feet.
"This cold weather has been doing wonders," said Hastings' director of public works, Tom Montgomery. "The freezing overnight has really slowed down the runoff."
There's still about a 50 percent chance that flood levels could rise above this first crest in the rest of the flood period, but it all depends on the weather. The National Weather Service says Hastings should expect a second crest, but has not issued a forecast for it yet.
Volunteers placed sandbags around a third home Tuesday afternoon, after hundreds of volunteers chipped in to fill more than 20,000 sandbags last Saturday and place them around two riverfront homes. They'll be holding off sandbagging any more homes, at least for now, Montgomery said, since it seems the river isn't posing as much of a threat as had been expected.
"For now we're holding steady. I think we're doing fine," he said.
Meanwhile, riverfront property owners are keeping their eyes on the water. If a second crest does come, they'll be ready, even if it's severe. The American Legion Post 47 is one of those properties. Last week, the Legion put out a call for volunteers to help fill sandbags to protect its memorial wall, which supports the patio and faces the river.
Volunteers for that project merged with the effort hosted by Bless Hastings Saturday.
"Right now we don't have to worry," said Joe Balsanek, who has been coordinating the Legion efforts with Bless Hastings.
It's estimated that the river would have to rise another six feet to affect the wall. Why is the Legion worried about it? They don't know if the wall was built to stand through a flood, Balsanek said. And because it supports the patio, if water were to rise high enough, there would be a risk of losing the patio. Flood water could also damage several brass memorial plaques.
"The good news is, we've got enough sandbags filled that we can cover any of the housing along the river that would need assistance, and also the Legion wall," Balsanek said. "So we are prepared."
While it's human nature to want to see exactly what the flood is doing, it's important for people to remember to be cautious around the water.
"Stay a safe distance back from the water," said Mike Schutt, Hastings' fire and EMS director.
"Because the water is extremely high, it's also moving at a fast rate," he said. "If you slipped and fell in, you'd be quite a ways down the river before anyone could get to you."
River flow is measured in cubic feet per second. During the summer months, it moves at a rate of 5,000 to 10,000 cubic feet per second. Right now, it's moving eight to 16 times faster, at about 80,000 cubic feet per second, Montgomery said.
"In addition to that, it's cold, and hypothermia is going to set in pretty fast," Schutt added.
High water levels also hide the bank, so one wouldn't know exactly where the edge is, Montgomery said.