Floodwaters from Colorado continue to push eastward through Nebraska, leaving flooded roads behind them and uncertainty ahead.
Big Springs, Neb. near the Colorado-Nebraska border, was the first town along the South Platte River in the path of the surging water. Stephen Deshayes of Ogallala, farther downstream, drove out to see what was happening.
Deshayes spent last weekend sandbagging in Colorado, where his family lives. As he waited for the waters to crest in Big Springs, Deshayes was taking it kind of personally. “Well, it sure looks like a lot of water kind of just chasing me all the way across Colorado now into Nebraska,” he said, laughing.
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By the time he spoke, authorities had already closed the Big Springs exit northbound off Interstate 80, two truck stops located there, and the road from the interstate into town. Wednesday night, the water rose to cover that road, but it didn’t get into town, where people had been filling and placing sandbags for three days.
Sitting in his cruiser near the blocked off road Thursday morning, Deuel County Sheriff Adam Hayward said the water level had actually begun coming down, but could still go back up. “As the water goes down to the east, if it’s kind of building up at a levee or a dam and then it goes over, it’s going to drop,” Hayward said.
“But then when it hits the next one of course it’s going to back up so we’re going to see a fluctuation,” he continued. “Probably it’s just going to go up and down a little bit, probably for the next few days.”
Adding to the uncertainty was intermittent rain. Deuel County is in a band of western Nebraska classified as being in severe or extreme drought this year, and Hayward was trying to be philosophical about the precipitation. “We need the rain, but not right now,” he said.
About an inch of rain fell Wednesday night in a narrow band right on top of the river, from west of Ogallala to Julesburg, said Bill Taylor, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in North Platte. Taylor said the rain probably wouldn’t affect the flooding much at all, but it could have been worse if it fell over a wider area.
Farther east, at the National Weather Service in Hastings, Meteorologist Mike Moritz said flooding was less likely east of Grand Island, but rain and other factors could complicate the situation there as well. “The worst of the flooding clearly is to the west, but there’s going to be that debris coming through, and then those issues with near-river access roads and county roads. Those will be the problem areas,” Moritz said.
Moritz said once out of their banks, waters would be slow to recede, taking anywhere from four to seven days. He said the models being used to predict flooding were based on a similar situation, involving less rain in Colorado but more elsewhere, in 1965.
Back in Big Springs, Kelly Rochlitz remembered that flooding. “I was just a little squirt when it hit in ’65 and it’s about the same,” he said, before adding a note of uncertainty. “Things are a little different. The interstate’s here, and I don’t know,” he said.
Cities and towns along the South Platte and Platte may escape without major damage from this year’s flooding. But changes in the landscape, and the unpredictability caused by weather and debris, have people keeping a wary eye on things.