Nebraskans reacted to the latest day of flooding along the South Platte with a mixture of relief at what didn’t happen, and apprehension about what still might
On the highway 26 viaduct overlooking the South Platte River in Ogallala Friday morning, Mike Knaub was looking down on the swollen river with his 11-year old daughter Sierra.. The South Platte crested in Ogallala Thursday, carrying floodwaters from the record rains that devastated Colorado. The river here was way up – but it stayed within its banks.
Knaub was among many in Ogallala who were expecting worse. “We have a bank that’s real close to here so we put sandbags around a couple days ago anticipating that it was going to come over the banks, but it was a non-event,” he said.
Ogallala may have been spared flooding, but the rush of water was hardly a “non-event” for John Miller of the U.S. Geological Service. Miller was among those keeping tabs on the flood at Roscoe, about seven miles east of North Platte.
Usually, USGS personnel check water flows once a month. But as the water rose past record levels Thursday, Miller said, it was not business as usual. “Obviously now, it’s of incredible significant importance with the flood that’s gonna – that’s made its way well into Nebraska now,” he said.
Miller said the river crested at Roscoe about 11 feet above the baseline measurement early Friday morning, and was expected to stay there several days. The town, about a mile off, was safe. But nearby fields were flooded and the road to Interstate 80 was washed over and shut. About 45 miles farther east, in North Platte, officials met Friday morning to hear Lincoln County Emergency Manager Dan Guenther brief them on when the first of the floodwaters was expected. “That bridge about 2 p.m., and we haven’t calculated downstream from there yet,” Hawks said.
Even with all the information being collected, a flood like this still causes confusion. Guenther told the assembled group about one troubling situation. “I have a breach west of Sutherland. There’s not a lot of water coming over it. But it’s only going to get worse,” he said. “I’ve got the State Patrol flying that – they’re looking at it. I’m waiting for a radio call from them right now to tell me the exact condition. What that breach does, it impacts the railroad. That’s national commerce,” Guenther continued.
But Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis later said the railroad was not aware of any breach. Mike Wight of the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency said the State Patrol had spotted water, but it turned out it was flowing through a culvert that there were plans to sandbag. Meanwhile, the busy railroad kept on running parallel to the swollen river.
The water was approaching North Platte Friday morning, and was expected to crest there Saturday afternoon, producing only minor flooding. City Administrator Jim Hawks said officials are keeping a watchful eye on the situation. “We’re kind of at a point right now where I think we’re all braced for it. So we just gotta wait and see what happens here over the next 24 hours, and we’ll probably be through this.”
Twenty miles farther east in Brady, the National Weather Service is predicting moderate flooding when the river crests on Sunday. But at the Hitchin’ Post Saloon on Main Street Friday afternoon, farmer Roger Wahlgren wasn’t worried. “I don’t think it’s going to be that bad. But I could be wrong. I don’t know,” Wahlgren said, laughing.
The next few days will tell the tale, for North Platte, Brady, and communities on down the Platte.