Overflowing rivers and reservoirs across Kansas are already producing significant flooding, particularly in the southeast corner of the state.
But, forecasters say, things could get much worse over the next several days as slow-moving thunderstorms develop over central and northeast Kansas.
“We’re going to see repeated bouts of thunderstorms over the next several days and those storms are going to move repeatedly over the same areas,” said Chad Omitt, a National Weather Service meteorologist.
The storms, he said, could produce flooding in northeast Kansas similar to that generated by up to 20 inches of rain that fell over portions of southeast Kansas in recent days, sending the Neosho, Verdigris and Marmaton rivers over their banks.
That’s well above the region’s average rainfall for the entire month of May of about five inches.
“Many of these areas are seeing an entire month’s worth of rain in one night,” Omitt said.
Omitt joined Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly and the heads of several state agencies Thursday to brief reporters on disaster relief efforts already underway and warn that more creeks, rivers and reservoirs could soon be spilling over their banks.
“We’ve got to be vigilant, we’ve got to make safety a priority,” Kelly said, noting that she has issued disaster declarations for 42 of the state’s 105 counties since the end of April.
Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli, the commander of the Kansas National Guard and the state’s emergency management director, said Kansans should prepare for what he calls “a multi-hazard event” – meaning more heavy rain and the increased possibility of tornadoes and other types of severe weather.
“It really creates a very dangerous situation,” Tafanelli said.
At a minimum, Tafanelli said, Kansans should factor the warnings into their plans for the Memorial Day weekend. That starts, he said, with checking to see whether rains have forced the closure of roads or state parks.
- Thes Kansas Department of Transportation website has latest information on road closures.
- The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism has the latest on flood alerts in state parks.
The recent rescue of three motorists from a car swept off a roadway near Emporia by rusing water should serve as a warning to all travelers, said Larry Thompson of the Kansas Department of Transportation.
“We’re urging drivers to pay attention when they’re out there,” Thompson said. “Don’t drive into flowing water, don’t drive around the barricades.”
Drivers who spot water overtopping a roadway, Thompson said, should call 911 to report it.
The Kansas Department of Children and Families is overseeing shelters for Kansans forced out of their homes by flooding, The Department of Health and Environment is preparing for possible weather-related health threats. In particular, heavy rain and flooding could sharply increase the number of disease-carrying insects.
“With water everywhere and warm temperatures, we will see ticks and mosquitos flourish,” said KDHE Secretary Lee Norman.
“So, once the water starts receding, it will be really important for people to drain out any standing water,” he said.
The forecast for continued heavy rain and severe weather runs through early next week, Omitt said.
“Probably through about Tuesday before the pattern breaks down,” he said, “we get this stuff to start moving and get we get some drier weather.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the death of a motorist caught in rising flood waters.
Jim McLean is the senior correspondent for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks or email jim (at) kcur (dot) org.
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