Temporary relief: This week's snow will raise water levels on the Mississippi River for a couple weeks

Thursday, December 27, 2012
The Mississippi River as seen Wednesday from downtown Cape Girardeau. The snowfall the area received Tuesday night and Wednesday morning will raise the level of the river, but only temporarily. (ADAM VOGLER)

Melting post-Christmas snow will provide a little relief for barge traffic on the drought-stricken Mississippi River.

"You'll see a small rise beginning in about four to five days, but it's only going to be short lived," said Robin Smith, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Paducah, Ky. "It will go up for about a week and a half, maybe two weeks, but it's going to turn around and start going right back down."

Because of heavier snow amounts in Southern Illinois and southwest Indiana, points on the Mississippi River south of Cairo, Ill., are likely to go up and stay up longer because of increasing flow as snow melts into the Wabash River and runs into the Ohio River, Smith said.

"It's still not going to be any kind of significant relief," he said.

Dan Overbey, executive director of the Southeast Missouri Regional Port Authority, said the snow will help stretch out the river forecast.

"They've got a little more water so the doomsday dates are being pushed back to mid-January," he said. "It's kind of wait-and-see."

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Mike Petersen said hydrologists will incorporate this snowfall into their upcoming river forecasts.

"With the amount that we got and where, every little bit helps, but we don't expect it to make a huge difference," Petersen said. "If we could get good snow pack up north, that will make a world of difference for the whole river system. That's what we're hoping for."

River traffic slowed during the past few days as boat crews went home for Christmas, but Overbey said he expects it to pick up later this week.

Beginning this morning, restrictions will resume on the river while corps contractors go back to work to remove rock pinnacles near Thebes, Ill.

The river will be closed from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, with traffic permitted to pass during overnight hours. The U.S. Coast Guard will continue to manage traffic through the work zone during the night.

Petersen said this system worked smoothly last week.

"We were able to pass almost all the traffic each night," he said. "We would occasionally have a couple tows remaining, but it's been working out pretty well."

The corps' work near Thebes is scheduled to continue through the end of January.

The river is expected to rise to 6 feet on the Thebes gauge today, according to the National Weather Service.

Those who ship along the river are watching levels closely and loading barges lighter as a result, Overbey said.

"They can still run at a 9-foot draft for at least a few days. I know some folks have had customers load to 8 or even 7 foot. They're trying to make sure they can still get them through," he said.

The draft is the submerged portion of barges.

When the river is at 2 feet on the gauge at Thebes, drafts must be cut to 8 feet in order to pass. At 1 foot only a 7-foot draft will pass.

mmiller@semissourian.com

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Pertinent address:

Thebes, Ill.

Map of pertinent addresses

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