Herculaneum river gauge

The water.weather.gov website now posts Mississippi River levels being monitored at Herculaneum.

Spring is coming to life all around us. With weeks of wet weather followed by warm sunny days, you can almost watch the grass grow. With this time of year comes rising river levels.

I have always been something of a river rat. I was blessed to grow up near the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, and I spent long weekends every summer on the banks of the Gasconade under the not-always-watchful eyes of some great uncles.

Since I moved within walking distance of one of the world’s biggest waterways, I have been a regular watcher of the river levels and predictions provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the weather radio people.

In checking the numbers earlier this year, I noticed a change that may make my monitoring efforts easier. I know that we fall somewhere in between the gauges at St. Louis and Chester, Ill. The levels south of Jefferson County are usually a bit higher than at the Eads Bridge, so I would have to estimate when Hugs Landing Road might be inundated or the Crystal City High School football field would surrender to muddy water.

However, since sometime last summer a gauge has been added at Herculaneum.

The new monitoring station shows only current river levels. The St. Louis and Chester locations also provide predictions for levels up to seven days based on past precipitation and amounts of rainfall forecast for the next 24 hours.

The water.weather.gov website for each location lists recognizable landmarks affected by increasing water levels, like when flooding begins on Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard and when flood gates close in different locations. The Herculaneum site impact statements mention places like Bates Memorial Park, All Bark Village and Kade’s Playground.

Because the gauge is new, the only “historic crest” listed for Herculaneum is a level of 27.41 feet on June 29, 2021. A new No. 1 is going to be established this month as the river continued to rise over the weekend. The highest levels recorded at St. Louis and Chester are 49.58 feet and 49.74 feet, respectively, in August 1993.

The gauges provide flood information in four categories. A level of 24 feet is considered the action stage, and 26 feet is labeled as flood stage for Herculaneum. Moderate flooding is designated at 32 feet, and 37 feet is considered major flooding. At 38.6 feet, the railroad tracks at the town’s riverfront are underwater.

Watch for wildlife

The rising river levels are not the only signs of spring to be watchful for this time of year.

Many animal babies are being born and almost none of them need any human assistance. If you find a fawn, its mother is not likely very far away. Birds that fall from the nest are learning to fly and fend for themselves. Bunnies huddled in a bunch are better with their brothers and sisters than any adopted family.

Another consideration as the weather heats up are turtles crossing the roads. Forest dwellers like three-toed and ornate box turtles will like warm pavement on their cold-blooded bodies. Similarly, other semi-aquatic reptiles with shells will be traveling this time of year, looking for love or new homes. Common snapping turtles and red-eared sliders are likely to be using the same roads as you.

“Give them a brake” is the advice from the state Department of Conservation.

Last but not least is the annual call for area residents to be bear aware. Young black bears are sure to return to the Jefferson County region again. They will not find the mates they are seeking and will return to the southern part of the state if they don’t discover easy food sources like pet food, unsecured garbage cans, bird feeders and beehives to temporarily keep them here.

Let wildlife be wild, and if you live near the river like me, make sure you know where to find your waders.

John Winkelman is Marketing Director for Liguori Publications near Barnhart, Mo., and Associate Editor for Outdoor Guide Magazine. If you have story ideas to share for the Leader outdoor news page, e-mail ogmjohnw@aol.com, and you can find more outdoor news and updates at johnjwink.com.