Emergency management officials and meteorologists had some good news and bad news at a press conference held Friday morning to address the flooding and forecasted rainfall in the county.
The good news: the Little Arkansas had lowered, Highway 50 was open and according to National Weather Service meteorologist Ken Cook, if the forecast held the river would continue to recede.
“As each day goes by where we don’t get significant rain, the situation gradually improves,” Cook said. The county received smaller rainfall amounts Thursday than predicted–between .25 and.5 inches. Cook added that had improved the situation.
Cook said accounting for expected rainfall for the area in the next few days, 1 to 1.5 additional inches, waters could continue to slowly recede. However, he said the models were an inexact science. He said some models showed 2-3 inches following in the coming week. Others showed up to 10 inches.
“All the way till Tuesday, we are forecasting storms to affect the area,” he said. “There is still the threat for tornadoes each of those days. We want to see those storms moving along. If we start seeing clusters of storms stalling over the area, that’s a big problem. ”
In a nutshell, if forecast totals held the flooding shouldn’t worsen. However, if heavier rains did fall in the county and areas north that the county drained, record flooding levels of the Little Arkansas would be reached, saturated flood control would be overwhelmed and the county would be faced with a record flooding situation.
“We’re teetering on the brink of a major catastrophe if we do get a five- or eight-inch rain,” Cook said.
Cook said forecasts also become more accurate the closer they get to rain events, and it was difficult to forecast totals days in the future, compared to 1-6 hours before hand.
“It’s difficult to pinpoint where the heavy rain will be,” he said, saying that they felt confident it would fall somewhere in southern and eastern Kansas. “It’s where exactly that falls is where the confidence is not there.”
So county emergency management, city leaders and authorities have been preparing for the worst case scenarios.
Emergency Management coordinator Gary Denny said the county didn’t want to alarm residents but instead encourage them to have a plan for a possible catastrophe.
“We are anticipating evacuations and we’re in a planning mode,” he said. “We’ve tried to identify what our challenges might be. Our challenges might be evacuations and high water rescues.”
He said the county is working on emergency shelters should that flooding occur.
He said that areas hardest hit in case of a catastrophe would be Sedgwick and Halstead.
Sedgwick Mayor Bryan Chapman said the city was happy to see waters start to recede but it would be prepared in case the situation changed.
” We had volunteers that sandbagged, and several hundred bags were put out in the community. We’re in pretty good shape,” he said. “We’re in areas if we do evacuate, the Christian Church has a large gymnasium.” He said there were cots and blankets and a place to cook in the proposed shelter.
He said if the river does reach 3-4 feet over highest recorded levels the town could be in trouble.
Halstead Mayor Bill Ewert noted that the city would be prepared and was thankful to its forefathers for erecting and paying for the city’s levee system. So far one gate in Halstead was closed.
He noted he was thankful for all the help and cooperation spread through local governments.
“This is an example of Harvey County working together and the communities working together,” he said.