On top of COVID-19, officials eyeing potential flooding

The Fort Madison riverfront is safe for now from flooding, despite the river rising .15 feet overnight. Officials predict moderate to major flooding into April. Photo by Chuck Vandenberg/PCC


FORT MADISON – As emergency and health officials continue to battle the spread of coronavirus, an eye has been turned to the Mississippi and its potential to flood this spring.

Steve Cirinna, the Lee County Emergency Management Services coordinator told Pen City Current Wednesday that he’s been putting out some warnings about flooding so preparations are not forgotten with all attention on the spread of the coronavirus.

“I’ve already been pushing out there, ‘Hey, don’t forget that this is looming out there,” he said.

“The weather service and the Army Corp are indicating that we have a 25% to 50% higher chance than normal for major flooding again this year. And they’re generally pretty good about predicting how high we’ll go.”

He said current models predict Burlington to peak about 19.5 feet by April 20, but those could change based on changing weather patterns.

Forecasters use information including water already in the system, snow melt and weather patterns to determine flood levels and issue watches and warnings.

“They don’t have a clue what it’s going to do because we don’t know what kind of rain were going to see. Those numbers are based on information they have now.”

According to the National Weather Service out of the Quad Cities, pretty much the entire area south of the Quad Cities along the Mississippi is predicted to have minor to major flooding.

Cirinna said the numbers have increased with the latest projections.

“We’re getting pretty good at knowing what to do and when to start. There are certain trigger points that each community has for certain levels of protection,” he said.

“They say when the river gets to a certain point or is predicted to get to a certain point were going to start putting up flood walls around the waste water treatment plant.”

The other problem Cirinna is concerned about with flooding this year is the recommendations for self-distancing due to the coronavirus.

He said volunteers who would sandbag if the need arises are typically closer than six feet. One person would fill the bag about 3/4 of the way and set it behind them, where another volunteer comes to tie it up and put it on a pallet.

“Those people are working close together and sweating, even if it’s cold outside, and I’ve been running the question up the ranks asking if we are going to able to get a large number of volunteers if self-distancing is still in place,” Cirinna said. “That will be very difficult.”

The flood stage in Fort Madison is set on elevation and not the typical water depth. Fort Madison’s flood stage is slightly over 528 feet, according to www.rivergages.com. The current water level is 528.97 an increase of .15 feet over the past 24 hours.

Burlington’s flood stage is 15 feet and was recorded at 16.87 feet at 9 a.m. Wednesday morning, which is considered moderate flooding on that riverfront. Burlington is expected to crest initially at 17 feet on Thursday night before receding slightly. Major flooding there is 18 feet or higher.

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