Rain has been relentless the past week across the Upper Midwest, causing flash flooding and filling the Mississippi River from St. Paul, Minnesota, down to St. Louis, halting barge traffic on the river.
This past week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Rock Island District closed locks, starting with Lock 16 near Davenport, Iowa, and all the way down river to Lock 24 below Hannibal, Missouri, after water started to flow over and through the lock structures. The estimated time to reopen the locks is uncertain, but likely not before Oct. 18.
American Commercial Barge Line reported that Lock 20, north of Quincy, Illinois, may have sustained damage after the river topped the lock wall, and may not open until Oct. 24 or 25.
Farther south in St. Louis, the water has risen above 25 feet, causing transit only during daylight hours there. That will not change until the river falls back below 25 feet. As of midday Thursday, the river had risen to 29.26 feet above flood stage, with expectations for it to rise to 34.9 feet by Oct. 14, close to the major flood stage of 35 feet, according to the National Weather Service.
“The October forecast predicts above-average precipitation in all areas of the country, with the Midwest and South expected to experience well-above-average rain,” said Tom Russell, Russell Marine Group. “Concentrated heavy rains over the past week has resulted in high-water conditions on the Upper Mississippi River from Cairo to Minneapolis and on the Illinois River. Areas of both rivers are at or above flood stage.”
While the St. Louis Harbor has reached flood stage, Russell said that the harbor is expected to remain open with safety protocols, such as tow size restrictions and daylight-only movements.
“More rain is expected in the area this week, which will make the situation dynamic,” he added. “The situation will certainly delay delivery of barges out of St. Louis.”
Russell said that the Ohio and Lower Mississippi Rivers are currently in good shape without any delays to traffic.
“Long-term November to December forecasts call for normal precipitation in the Northern-tier states and above normal for Midwest and South,” said Russell. “If rain forecasts hold true, the river systems could remain charged at higher stages for the next few months.”
Should the locks remain closed if high-water conditions continue or if the locks become damaged, final dates for barges leaving the Upper Mississippi River ahead of the winter closure could become an issue. Nov. 18 is the final departure date for barges to leave St. Paul, Minnesota, and pass through MM640 north of Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin. As of Nov. 25, all barges must be through MM521 south of Dubuque, Iowa.