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Big rain sending 3 rivers up again

Runoff from Bill to pour into state by Kenneth Heard | June 19, 2015 at 3:42 a.m.

Heavy rain from Tropical Depression Bill will leave the state tonight as the system batters its way into Missouri and then the Ohio Valley, but Arkansans will soon see the storm's aftermath when waters rise on the Arkansas, Mississippi and Red rivers.

The National Weather Service has issued flash-flood warnings for Northwest Arkansas, and the western two-thirds of the state remained under a flash-flood watch because of expected heavy rainfalls.

Benton, Carroll, Madison and Washington counties were predicted to receive 4 to 6 inches of rain today, and areas farther south could get 3 to 5 inches. National Weather Service meteorologist Joe Sellers of Tulsa said some localized spots may see 8 to 10 inches of rain before the system passes.

"It's a tropical system," Sellers said. "You're going to see tropicslike rains."

The Arkansas River, which flooded twice in the past two months, is expected to see rises of 5 to 8 feet as runoff left from the storm's trek through Oklahoma and Texas drains through the states' creeks, tributaries and reservoirs.

The river at Van Buren is forecast to reach 28.9 feet Saturday, 7 feet above flood stage but still shy of its May 31 crest of 33.5 feet. In Little Rock, the river will reach 18.3 feet Monday -- a rise of 5.3 feet from Thursday afternoon. Flood stage there is 23 feet.

Water cascaded through the dam at Keystone Lake near Tulsa and into the Arkansas River on Thursday at a rate of 83,000 cubic feet per second, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Brannen Parrish said. The lake rose a foot in 24 hours, reaching 744.55 feet Thursday afternoon.

"We're still getting a lot of rain now," Parrish said Thursday afternoon. "We've got plenty of flood storage left in the lake, but the whole river system is getting rain."

The normal level for Keystone Lake is 723 feet. In May, when more than 15 inches of rain fell in Oklahoma, the lake level climbed to 752.68 feet.

Officials at Buffalo National River braced for flash flooding, warning visitors to be aware of rapidly rising water levels.

The Buffalo River at St. Joe is forecast to rise from 7.6 feet to 27 feet by 1 a.m. Saturday, and the Kings River in Berryville is expected to go from 6.7 feet Thursday to 30.5 feet this afternoon because of heavy rains in the area.

Heavy rains from a storm Tuesday have already damaged campgrounds and roads at the river, said Buffalo National River spokesman Caven Clark.

Park Superintendent Kevin Cheri closed Lost Valley, the park's most heavily visited day-use destination, over concerns for visitor safety along the heavily eroded segments of the trail, a news release said.

Tropical Storm Bill made landfall at Matagorda Island on the Texas Gulf Coast on Tuesday morning and blustered its way north, soaking Houston with 11 inches of rain.

The storm's journey through the Southern Plains was a precarious one. It made landfall with 60 mph winds and began weakening as it pushed its way inland. Then the system fed off of the rain-soaked soils and intensified in a phenomenon known as "brown ocean."

Atlantic Ocean and Gulf hurricanes and tropical storms grow in strength by the moisture provided by the bodies of water. Because of the abundance of ground moisture from previous rains in Texas and Oklahoma, the storm was able to maintain strength much further inland than normal.

A ridge of high pressure of the southeastern United States pushed Tropical Depression Bill farther west Wednesday, and a high-pressure system to the north slowed its progress later that day. On Thursday, the formation of a mesoscale convective system over Nebraska that created heavy thunderstorms battled with the storm system, forcing it to slow yet again.

The storm spawned violent thunderstorms in southern Arkansas and Louisiana. The National Weather Service in North Little Rock issued a brief tornado warning in Hot Spring County after radar indicated possible rotation in a storm system Thursday afternoon.

A weather service team from Shreveport traveled to Mansfield, La., about 30 miles south of Shreveport to inspect damage made by a possible tornado Thursday morning, meteorologist Lisa May of Shreveport said.

Forecasters say the storm should pass over Siloam Springs early this morning and then head out of Missouri and into Illinois by Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Red River in southwest Arkansas is expected to rise again.

In Index, where the Red River crested at 31.4 feet June 4, the river is expected to rise to 26.5 feet Tuesday. Flood stage in the Miller County gauge is 25 feet.

Further downstream, the river is forecast to reach 20.9 feet on Sunday at Fulton. Flood stage there is 27 feet.

Pat Willis, who lives in Hervey about 10 miles downstream from Fulton, said she's more concerned about the animals than the rising water.

"We killed nine snakes this week," said Willis, who lives on an oxbow lake formed by the Red River. "We usually only see one snake."

She's also seen alligators swimming nearby.

"We saw one in the middle of the river the other day and told a family who were picnicking there about it," Willis said. "We saw them pack up and leave quickly."

As the last remnants of Bill cross Missouri, Corps of Engineers officials expect its rains also will cause the Mississippi River to swell. Teams will survey levees along the river in southern Missouri on rotating 12-hour shifts beginning Sunday, said Corps spokesman Jim Pogue of Memphis.

"We're expecting the river to get up fast and then drop fast," he said.

The river in Cape Girardeau is expected to crest at 44.5 feet on Tuesday. Flood stage there is 32 feet.

Osceola will see the Mississippi River rise 10 feet to 25.0 feet by Tuesday, and Helena-West Helena is expecting the river to reach 29 feet in the Phillips County town by Tuesday.

In Memphis, the river will rise 8 feet to 23.4 feet but will hold well below its flood stage of 34 feet.

"We don't expect much problems," said Andy Anderson, the manager of Mud Island Marina in Memphis. "We'll see a 2-foot rise a day for a few days. At that rate, there'll be a lot of debris on the river.

"Most of our people have been here a long while and know the river, but we'll tell them to watch out for trees, stumps and whatever else the river brings.

"Normally, at this time the level is dropping like a rock," Anderson said. "Usually, we're seeing sand bars in the river where people like to cook out. Looks like we won't be seeing those for a few more weeks."

State Desk on 06/19/2015

Print Headline: Big rain sending 3 rivers up again

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