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Flash flooding sweeps through St. Louis area after heavy rains

Flash flooding sweeps through St. Louis area after heavy rains

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Out with one kind of flooding, and in with another.

Over the weekend, the Mississippi River at St. Louis dropped below flood stage for the first time since March 16 — a 127-day streak that exceeded even the 104 consecutive days of high water seen during the historic flooding of 1993, the National Weather Service said.

But the waterlogged region swapped in a different variety of flood troubles Monday, after heavy overnight rains triggered flash flooding throughout the St. Louis area.

The ensuing floods inundated streets and businesses in Eureka, displaced residents from a University City apartment complex, caused sewage overflows and prompted a spate of rescues around the area for motorists stranded in high water.

In Eureka — no stranger to flood damage from the adjacent Meramec River in recent years — the intense, early-morning rain flooded streets of the Old Town business district. Police said they had no reports of injuries.

The flooding happened between about 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. Monday, police said. The National Weather Service said local reports indicated Eureka received about 5.5 inches of rain overnight.

Flooding from the deluge shut down streets such as South Central Avenue and Dreyer Avenue, and left varying amounts of water inside buildings. Close to a dozen businesses were affected.

“This is direct runoff from rainfall that’s causing the problems,” said Jon Carney, a meteorologist at the St. Louis area forecast office of the National Weather Service, clarifying that the issues are not tied to river flooding.

Although Eureka received a substantial amount of rain for such a short time frame, Carney said the rate of precipitation was “certainly not unheard of.”

Less rain fell closer to St. Louis. Chesterfield recorded 4.3 inches of overnight rain, Carney said, while St. Louis Lambert International Airport received 3.3 inches. That set a St. Louis record for July 22. The old record for that date, 2.7 inches, was set in 1874.

Even so, other areas had their own problems with rising water. People in stranded vehicles required water rescues from the Maryland Heights Fire Protection District, according to a Facebook post from the department. Meanwhile, the Monarch Fire Protection District in Chesterfield performed at least three water rescues of their own, including one for a mother and baby, a department social media post said. Another happened in Ferguson, the Ferguson Fire Department said.

Residents of a number of apartments in University City were evacuated, according to University City police.

“The Westover Court apartment complex was completely evacuated due to approximately four feet of standing water, with at least one foot of water that entered the first floor apartments,” police said in an announcement.

Moderate flooding also prompted precautionary evacuations from two nearby apartment buildings on Hafner Court, police said. All flood evacuees were taken by police to a “community center for temporary shelter and the American Red Cross was contacted to assist with disaster relief,” the department added.

Sewage overflows were another result of the rainfall. The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District reported that about 160,000 gallons of wastewater overflowed after two St. Louis County pump stations were overwhelmed — one in Chesterfield and one at Castlewood State Park. MSD said crews were responding to each incident and that “there is no immediate threat to public health or safety.”

The episode is merely the latest downpour in a stretch of intense saturation for the region.

“We’re obviously wetter than normal,” Carney said. With Monday’s rain, the official precipitation total of 36.01 inches since the beginning of the year is 12.41 inches above normal.

Nationally, precipitation records are being set as quickly as new monthly data is compiled.

For example, the last 12 months have been the wettest one-year stretch on record in the U.S., according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But that record has been toppled and set anew for three consecutive months now.

“It’s the third consecutive time in 2019 (April, May and June) the past 12-month precipitation record has hit an all-time high,” according to a NOAA analysis earlier this month.

And in March — the last month capping a yearlong period that was not the country’s wettest on record — the precipitation totals ranked as the second-highest.

Precipitation extremes are one outcome foretold by climate change projections — particularly because the atmosphere is capable of holding more moisture as global temperatures rise. Major downpours have become more common nationwide over the past few decades, but especially in regions such as the Midwest, according to the National Climate Assessment.

MSD customers who experience a basement backup or witness an overflowing manhole are asked to call the utility’s customer service line at 314-768-6260.

Kim Bell and Erin Heffernan of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

Editor's note: A prior record for rainfall for July 22 set in 1874 applied to the city of St. Louis. A previous version of this story listed an incorrect location for the record, due to an editing error. 

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