February rains at 200% of normal across the Tennessee Valley brought flooding expected to exceed historic levels and forced a shutdown for barge traffic along 650 miles of river, according to the Tennessee Valley Authority and Corps of Engineers.
With 13.47” of rain recorded at Nashville, Tenn., it was the wettest February since 1880, according to the National Weather Service. Nine locks between Paducah, Ky., and Knoxville, Tenn., were closed Feb. 23 due to the high water, as the agencies worked to manage flood levels.
“The Kentucky Lock is currently projected to reopen on Friday, March 8. The remainder of the locks will reopen between March 1-4,” American Commercial Barge Lines reported in its river traffic update Monday. “The gorge around mile 450 is expected to reopen on March 6-7.”
“We've seen rain levels in excess of 50 to 100 percent of what was forecast last week,” James Everett, senior manager for TVA’s River Forecast Center, said in an advisory the agency issued Saturday. “Right now we are seeing major flood events around the Valley, with extreme flows in the Tennessee River and major upticks in reservoir levels as we work to contain water.”
“Lake levels at tributary reservoirs and along the Tennessee River itself will rise sharply as water is withheld to reduce downstream flood crests,” said Everett. “Releases from most tributary reservoirs have been halted. We'll see many reservoirs meet or exceed summer pool. Property owners should take precautions. ”
On the Ohio River, daylight-only operations were mandated southbound at the Markland, McAlpine, Newburgh and J.T. Myers locks, and at the IC railroad bridge at Cairo, Ill., ACBL reported. At Cincinnati, Ohio, the river had risen above 45’ and the company was running only daylight transits.
“With the river levels now over 52’, we expect to have bridge clearance issues until Friday, March 1,” the advisory noted.
Operators and public agencies prepared for the coming of high water on the Lower Mississippi from the upstream flooding and soon snowmelt in the upper Midwest. Corps of Engineers officials in New Orleans said they will begin to open the Bonnet Carré Spillway Wednesday in anticipation of rising water and increasing pressure on levees.
With winter receding dam managers issued warnings of danger to fishermen and other lake users. “There is a lot of water moving through the system at a pretty good clip now, and I think that many people just don’t understand the tremendous power that water has,” said Todd Peney, director of the Tennessee Valley Authority police. “We’re seeing situations in which people are ignoring our warning systems, thinking that they can handle the water or that they know better, and that can lead to disaster.”