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Mississippi River levels dropping

NATCHEZ — The snow is melted, the skies are clear and for the first time in several years, the Mississippi River is falling and well below flood stage at the end of April.

This morning, the river at Natchez is expected to stand at 37.2 feet, and the National Weather Service’s Mississippi and Ohio River Forecast is predicting that by Friday it will have fallen to 35.7 feet.

Flood stage at Natchez is 48 feet.

“The river is on a pretty good fall, all the way up to Cairo, Ill.,” NWS Senior Hydrologist Marty Pope said.

“It is going to take a lot of rain to turn this river around.”

After a significant flood event in 2008 and both spring and fall flood events in 2009, seeing the river push against the levees was starting to seem like a common sight.

The river was also high — ultimately rising more than a foot above flood stage — in the first three months of 2010.

That rise was caused by an El Niño weather pattern, which brings in higher than average wet weather over a period of time. Pope said that this year’s El Niño eased up a little earlier than normal.

“In the past, I have experienced a period where you have a fairly strong, moderate El Niño, and then go into a fairly dry period, which is pretty much what we have done,” Pope said.

“Getting that snow melt out took us from an above normal potential for flooding to a normal potential.”

Now the snowmelt is gone, and significant storm systems over the river valleys that feed into the Mississippi River aren’t expected.

“We got all that snowmelt — which was really big — out of there and we had no heavy rains on that,” Pope said. “That was probably the biggest thing that helped us out during the snowmelt season.”

A small weather system is expected to come through this weekend, but Pope said it should not affect the river beyond slowing down the fall or making it rise very slightly from its current position.

He also said that only seasonal rainfall is expected during the course of the next month.

“On the 90-day scale everything looks fairly normal,” he said. “(Those projections) are very broad brushed, but right now there are no indications of any kind of major type of activity.”

Today’s river level is within inches of its average historic level for this date.

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