Emergency responders, state agency officials and weather trackers Thursday warned that river and reservoir flooding from heavy rains in southeast Kansas would shift during the Memorial Day weekend to invade central and northeast portions of the state.
Gov. Laura Kelly said 42 counties in Kansas were included in state disaster designations in the wake of heavy thunderstorms, tornadoes and persistent rainfall. Reservoirs and lakes are at capacity in southeast Kansas, the Kansas Water Office said, and swollen rivers downstream make strategic releases from reservoirs likely to cause additional flooding.
Some regions of the state typically receiving 4 or 5 inches of rain during May have been pounded by 10 to 20 inches. Through next Tuesday, the National Weather Service said, Manhattan and Topeka could expect in excess of 5 additional inches of rain. The influx of moisture is expected to produce more flooding and force closure of roads and parks.
"The forecast shows significantly more rain is on the way through early next week," Kelly said at the state's emergency operations center in Topeka. "Memorial Day weekend is a time many Kansans head outside or go to the lake. In many areas, conditions are not safe."
NWS meteorologist Chad Omitt said the state would experience tornadoes and plentiful rain over the holiday weekend, and that reality should compel Kansans to pay attention to weather conditions and craft a plan to find alternative shelter if necessary. The weather cycle dumping on the state is expected to break by Wednesday, he said.
Kansas National Guard Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli, who serves as director of the Kansas division of emergency management, said state and federal resources would be brought to bear on what was evolving into a long-term disaster event.
"A lot of our fellow Kansans are really in trouble right now. They're suffering right now," he said.
Tafanelli urged Kansans not to underestimate power of moving water and advised people not to enter flooded areas on foot or by vehicle. There can be hidden underwater obstacles, unpredictable currents and dangerous floating debris.
"It only takes about a foot of water to float a car," he said. "Flood waters move swiftly and can quite easily knock you off your feet and sweep you away. Don't try to wade or drive through flooded areas. Turn around, don't drown."
Earl Lewis, acting director of the Kansas Water Office, said Cheney, El Dorado, Fall River, Toronto, Elk City, Marion, Council Grove and John Redmond reservoirs or lakes had absorbed so much water that flood control pools were overflowing.
Limited storage space remains in Milford, Tuttle Creek, Perry and Clinton reservoirs and each is being closely monitored, he said.
The state had closed 16 roads on Wednesday, but that total dwindled to half a dozen by Thursday. The number and location of closures is likely to flex, said Larry Thompson, of the Kansas Department of Transportation. He said information on road closures could be found at www.kandrive.org.
State park alerts can be acquired at https://ksoutdoors.com/State-Parks/State-Park-Alerts.
Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said flooding knocked out a water treatment facility serving residents of Fredonia. A new plant, which is still under construction, is expected to be partially operational and potentially capable of producing 1 million gallons daily if testing confirms safety of the water, he said.
He also urged Kansans to conserve water and to be cautious during the recovery phase with chain saws and fire hazards.