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Ideal melting conditions helping to steady James River flooding

MITCHELL, S.D. - The flooding along the James River is subsiding. For now.

The river remains well above its banks throughout the southern part of South Dakota, but water levels have steadied or begun to drop with warmer temperatures.

National Weather Service Meteorologist Jeff Chapman, who works in the Sioux Falls office, said the Mitchell area has had the conditions for an ideal melt of the area’s snowpack, especially since the wet winter storm that hit from March 12-14 and exacerbated flooding concerns.

“We’ve had an ideal melt after the heavy surge,” Chapman said. “We’ve had an ideal melt because for the most part we’ve had temperatures in the 40s and 50s during the day, and we get down into the 20s at night. So you get that melt and refreeze, and the melt water slowly gets into the river systems, instead of all at once.”

Chapman said even having a couple of the warmest days of the year earlier this week — Mitchell reached a high of 64 on Wednesday after hitting 60 on Tuesday — are OK for a one- or two-day event.

For now, the James River Valley, which spans more than 20,000 square miles along the 700-mile river in North and South Dakota, has experts looking northward, as more snow continues to melt and work its way downstream.

“We’re going to see falling river levels, but they’re going to fall at a very slow rate,” Chapman said of the Mitchell area. “Looking out at the next 10 days or more out, we’re expecting we will stay at major flood stage.”

The James River at Mitchell was measured at 22.41 feet on Friday afternoon, down from a high of 23.5 feet at the start of the week. The forecast calls for it to drop to nearly 22 feet exactly, just hovering above the line for a moderate flooding categorization, instead of major flooding, as it is now.

The river at Forestburg was at 15.56 feet on Friday, dropping below the 16-foot barrier for major flooding. It is expected to hover around that 16-foot mark well into next week. At Scotland on Friday, the river was at 17.96 feet and was expected to fall to near 16.5 feet by Friday, April 5.

Some good news is in the Firesteel Creek, where flood levels have taken a dive since March 22, when the level was at more than 14 feet. As of Wednesday, the creek was at 9.6 feet near Mount Vernon and was expected to drop below flood level by Friday night and continue dropping through the weekend.

Davison County Deputy Emergency Management Administrator Mark Jenniges said the drier weather has allowed county officials to look at the status of the county and township roads, which have taken a beating in the last few weeks. At Tuesday’s upcoming county commission meeting, the commissioners will consider a disaster declaration to potentially help fund repairs to public infrastructure damaged by flooding.

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