Levee breaks at Black River; Widespread flood emergency
Wednesday, May 3, 2017, 11:25 - Deadly flash floods swept across the nation's Heartland and Midwest, prompting water rescues, evacuations and road closures from Texas to the Midwest. And while eastern parts of the nation grapple with historic flooding, another system is set to bring additional rainfall through the end of the week, putting officials and residents on high alert.
A dire situation continues to unfold in parts of Missouri, Arkansas, and Illinois, where 29 river gauges are at major flood state following days of heavy rain.
Making matters worse is a new moisture-laden low tracking across the region midweek which could have several rivers reaching record crests.
In Missouri, flooding prompted the closure of this section of Interstate-44 in St. Louis County just before midnight Monday, as well as a section of I-55 overnight Tuesday into Wednesday, as officials anticipated further flooding.
The Missouri Department of Transportation says the flooding is having a historic impact on the roadway system in the St. Louis region.
Meanwhile, a Flash Flood Emergency was delcared in Pocahontas, AR, Wednesday after the levee at the Black River failed Wednesday morning. The river was forecast to crest Thursday evening at 31.5 feet -- surpassing the current record crest at 28.5 feet.
The National Weather Service in Memphis was urging residents to seek higher ground immediately as floodwaters began to flow over parts of Randolph County.
"Water rescues occurring just south of Pocahontas in the community of Shannon," the weather service later tweeted about an hour after the emergency was declared.
SAFETY: Six important flood safety tips
Impacts from earlier storms
As additional rain overwhelmed areas east of the Rockies, the flood threat continued from southeast Texas through the Tennessee and Ohio river valleys following exceptional rainfall over the weekend which spurred major river flooding, with some rivers topping record-high crests.
The National Weather Service issued flash flood emergencies for parts of Missouri on Saturday, and central Arkansas on Sunday. Numerous water rescues and evacuations were required all weekend, and at least seven deaths due to flooding have been reported.
Five of the deaths were reported in Arkansas. On Tuesday, search crews recovered the body of a four-year-old boy that was swept away in the floodwaters, CNN reported. A search for an 18-month-old girl is ongoing.
Overall, the weekend severe storm claimed the lives of at least 20 people, The Weather Channel reported.
"I've declared a state of emergency so that we can more effectively respond to the challenges, cut through some regulations, be more responsive to our local officials," said Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas in a press conference Tuesday.
Additional road closures were announced in Randolph County, AR, Tuesday as officials anticipated floodwaters continue to rise along the Black River.
"Potentially life threatening flooding on the Black River is now imminent," the National Weather Service office in Memphis tweeted Tuesday morning. "The river may overtop its banks at any moment #TurnAroundDontDrown."
Click play to watch below: Drone Footage Shows Extent of Flooding in Fenton, Missouri
In Pocahontas, AR, Mayor Kary Story ordered an evacuation of the city's east side, specifically in the Robil Addition, according to an ArkansasMatters.com report.
SAFETY: Six important flood safety tips
By Saturday morning, up to 4 inches of rain had fallen over parts of Missouri, Oklahoma, and Illinois, with more than 6 inches between Evansville, IN, and Louisville, KY between Friday and Saturday.
By Sunday morning, as much as 11 inches of rain had fallen on parts of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas, with amounts up to 8 inches recorded from Oklahoma to Indiana.
High water in Missouri on Monday forced about 330 roads to close, including a stretch of Interstate 44 near Rolla and parts of Highway 63, the state transportation department said on its website. More than 100 highways also were shut in neighboring Arkansas, state officials said.
Missouri Governor Eric Greitens declared a state of emergency on Sunday (April 30) due to flooding that he described as "historic" for some parts of the state. Greitens said thousands of National Guard troops might be called upon to assist in flood fighting efforts over the next few days.
The cities of Joplin, Cassville and Reeds Spring were among those hard hit by floodwaters, according to a local NBC news affiliate via Reuters.
Major roadway flooding was reported throughout the Ozarks and Mississippi Valley, with some communities completely cut off to traffic in or out by rising water over the weekend.
In North Carolina, Governor Roy Cooper urged residents to remain on their guard, especially in areas already hit by flooding. Almost 30 roads were closed from high water and washouts, his office said in a statement.
The same weather system was responsible for the tornadoes that killed at least 16 people in eastern Texas over the weekend.
When it reached central and western New York Monday afternoon, the storms knocked out power for tens of thousands of residents.
Crews were working into the evening to clear roads and restore electricity.
In State College, Pennsylvania, some drivers took to the roads despite heavy flooding -- something officials strongly advise against. Downed trees were also reported across the state.
Watch below: Aerial view of Missouri Flooding
Storm related fatalities
At least five deaths were reported in Arkansas. On Tuesday, search crews recovered the body of a four-year-old boy that was swept away in the floodwaters, CNN reported. A search for an 18-month-old girl is ongoing.
In Mississippi, one man was killed when a tree fell on his home, and a 7-year-old boy was electrocuted when he unplugged an electric golf cart in standing water, said Greg Flynn, a spokesman for the state's emergency agency.
Two people were killed in Tennessee in storm-related incidents, authorities said. A woman struck by a falling tree on Sunday, the Lincoln County Sheriff's Department said in a statement. A 2-year-old girl died in the Nashville area Sunday afternoon after being stuck with a heavy metal soccer goal blown over by gusty winds, according to WSMV.com.
In Missouri, a 72-year-old Billings woman was swept away by high waters on Saturday, and two men ages 18 and 77 drowned in separate incidents on Sunday, emergency management spokesman Mike O'Connell said.
Why the extensive rain?
Slow-moving features in the atmosphere were to blame for the extensive rainfall over the weekend, including a deep trough in the jet stream which allowed cold air and snow to seep down over the Rockies and dump snow on Denver. The flip side of this feature was a broad ridge in the jet stream over the east, drawing up a plume of Caribbean moisture to inundate the Gulf coast and Mississippi Valley.
This jet setup supported a nearly-stationary boundary draped from Texas to Ohio, which was the focal point for clusters of nearly stationary thunderstorms, and staggering rainfall totals.
In addition, the diving jet stream was fueling a severe thunderstorms through the Deep South over the weekend, with downpours intensifying already high rainfall totals, along with the risk for large hail and damaging winds. Dozens of tornadoes were reported Saturday and Sunday, with at least four dead and many injured in one long-lived tornado near Canton, TX.
Additional thunderstorm and heavy rainfall expected
A new weather system will steadily intensify as it moves into the Central and Eastern U.S. mid to late this week. Heavy rainfall over portions of the High Plains and Mississippi River Valley will exacerbate ongoing flooding and may produce renewed flash flooding. In addition, severe thunderstorms may develop over the Deep South Wednesday with damaging winds, large hail, and isolated tornadoes.
Major river flooding is expected to persist through the week, with some record high water levels possible.
Record high river levels have already been reported along the Illinois River, and at numerous spots in Missouri.
SAFETY: Six important flood safety tips
River Flood category 3 day maximum, as expected through May 8th. Image courtesy NOAA.
45 stations along the Mississippi, Illinois, and Ohio rivers are expected to hit the major flooding category over the next week.
Check back with The Weather Network as we follow this developing story.