Flood warnings as 1 feared dead in Iowa - Omaha.com
Published Wednesday, May 29, 2013 at 12:00 am / Updated at 12:43 pm
Flood warnings as 1 feared dead in Iowa

Days of relentless rain and severe storms have made drought seem like old news in Nebraska and Iowa.

Fears now have turned to flash flooding, tornadoes and hail.

One person is believed dead as a result of flooding in Iowa, a 71-year-old man who drove his SUV into swift waters in the northeast corner of the state.

With the ground saturated, creeks rising and more rain forecast, Iowa declared a disaster emergency Tuesday. Flash flooding threatened northwest Iowa and central and southern Iowa, including river corridors in Des Moines, Tuesday night.

The Corps of Engineers announced Tuesday that it was cutting back releases from Gavins Point Dam on the Missouri River so the river could absorb more runoff from swollen tributaries.

Again Tuesday night, tornado sirens sounded in Nebraska, this time in the western part of the state, as severe storms pummeled the Panhandle with hail, high winds and heavy rains. Tornadoes may have touched down Tuesday evening in the Sidney and Big Creek areas, but reports were unconfirmed.

Storms are expected to continue across the region, including in Omaha, tonight, Thursday and possibly Friday. By this weekend, cooler weather should reduce the chances for storms, according to the National Weather Service.

In Council Bluffs, city officials have postponed tonight's Loessfest activities at Tom Hanafan River's Edge Park because of threatening weather and rising river levels. The Rumbles concert, as well as the showing of “Grease” on the Great Lawn, will be rescheduled. The new park is on the river side of the levee.

Residents in south-central Nebraska are at particular risk of severe storms today, two days after an EF2 twister-- meaning wind speeds of up to 135 mph - tore into Edgar, damaging at least a dozen homes and injuring two people.

The unfolding weather that is most troublesome is in Iowa, where conditions are reminiscent of the precursors to the catastrophic flooding of 1993. That year, spring rains saturated the soil, and then early summer storms stalled over the state, flushing rivers out of their banks.

The state “as a whole absolutely it is much, much, worse, especially northwest Iowa,” said David Pearson, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Omaha. “That spans across much of the state, not just our little area here.”

For now, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad has proclaimed a disaster emergency in 13 counties, including Buena Vista, Cherokee, Ida, Plymouth and Sioux in northwest Iowa.

The proclamation allows state resources to be used for storm response, such as removing debris and wreckage on public and private property that might threaten health and safety.

In central Iowa, 3 to 6 inches of rain is expected the rest of this week — on top of 6 to 8 inches from the past few days, according to the weather service.

In northwest Iowa, the Little Sioux River was threatening lowland flooding near the town of Turin.

“They have been kind of clobbered the past few days and nights,” said Jim Meyer, the meteorologist in charge at the weather service office in Valley.

Flood warnings for Mills and Fremont Counties in Iowa are tied to the Missouri River. There was no flooding yet in these counties, as of Tuesday evening, but it is expected, Meyer said.

By Tuesday evening, minor flooding had begun on the Missouri River at Rulo, and similar flooding is forecast at Nebraska City and Brownville.

In Omaha, the river is expected to crest today near flood stage, but then drop.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has asked people to avoid contact with floodwaters, saying many sewage treatment facilities have had to discharge raw sewage.

Sewage plants in Cherokee, Sheldon and Storm Lake have been raw discharging sewage to keep it from backing up into homes and businesses, the department said.

Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management was sending truckloads of bottled water to New Sharon in the southeast part of the state and Galva in the northwest.

Flooding shut down municipal water plants in both towns. The agency's spokesman, John Benson, said the concern the next few days will be heavy rain.

“One of the things we're going to be stressing is for the public to start paying real close attention to the flash flood warnings and flood warnings and understand what the weather is doing and how that can impact their area,” Benson said.

One northwest Iowa couple had to be rescued Monday afternoon when Willow Creek inched up the front porch of their home on the northeast side of Le Mars after 4 inches of rain over the weekend.

Stephanie Luecke said she and her husband, Ray, had never seen the creek rise so quickly. The water “surrounded us like an island,” she said.

Hail was a problem again Tuesday.

In the Nebraska Panhandle, Sidney resident Jim Joyce said the ground was white with mostly marble-size hail. However, some hailstones approached the size of golf balls.

On the other side of Nebraska, Nora and Jay Tallmon of Brownville said golf ball-size hail broke two windows in their living room Tuesday. Nora Tallmon said the hail started about 4:45 p.m. and tapered off an hour later.

Now, she said, the town is monitoring the rising river and hoping it won't flood.

The river was at 30.23 Tuesday night. The National Weather Service predicts the Missouri River in Brownville could reach 37.1 feet by Thursday, which is a couple of feet shy of flooding the access road to the local power plant.

Lowlands on both banks of the Missouri River begin to flood in Brownville when the water reaches 33 feet.

Depending on rainfall levels, the river at Brownville, Neb., is expected to pass flood stage this evening. At Plattsmouth and Nebraska City, the Missouri also is expected to go above flood stage tonight.

The threat of more storms across Nebraska and western Iowa comes as many communities continue to clean up from hail, high winds and flooding.

The weather service confirmed that four tornadoes touched down Monday in Nebraska, with at least two reaching EF2 status. The tornadoes hit mainly in rural areas.

In addition to the Edgar-area twister, two were in Jefferson County and the fourth was in Gage County.

The Omaha area could see rain and thunderstorms through Thursday. Rainfall totals have varied widely, based on where storms set up.

Since Saturday, Eppley Airfield has recorded 1.24 inches of rain, and the weather service office in Valley has received 2.24 inches.

Clarinda, Iowa, has had 3.33 inches of rain. Lincoln's 3.85 inches included a record 3.32 inches on Monday. That broke the previous record for May 27, which was 2.73 inches set in 1914.

World-Herald staff writers Alissa Skelton, Nancy Gaarder and David Hendee contributed to this report.

Contact the writer: Andrew J. Nelson

andrew.nelson@owh.com    |   402-444-1310    |  

Andrew writes about virtually everything – crime, features, legislative news and small-town controversy – happening in Iowa.

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