"Waterworld" is much more than a Kevin Costner movie for Columbus residents right now. It's becoming reality.
Lowland flooding concerns have been raised across southeastern Nebraska as a rainstorm entered the area Tuesday night, prompting Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts to issue an emergency declaration and directing the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency to take necessary action in response to the storm that National Weather Service Senior Service Hydrologist David Pearson said was traveling northward from Kansas and was expected to drop about 2 inches of rain between Wednesday and today.
That followed a thunderstorm early Wednesday morning that dumped plenty of rain in the area. With March having below average temperatures, nonabsorbent frozen ground-soil has remained, causing water to pool up on the surface.
The effects of Mother Nature were still abundantly visible all through the area on Tuesday. Cars making their way through Columbus on Wednesday found themselves either hydroplaning or dodging large pools of water on the sides of numerous roads, as well as the potholes that have come about. Many yards in residential neighborhoods and the landscaping outside of Columbus Community Hospital also were covered in large volumes of water. Sections of roads across the county on Wednesday had been closed due to water pooling up, such as Highway 81, Highway 30 and Highway 15 north, from Bone Creek Bridge to Schuyler. The nearby Loup and Platte rivers continue being monitored by state and county agencies as water levels are expected to rise.
Pearson presented at a community forum on March 5 in Columbus regarding flood concerns due to ice jams along the Loup and Platte rivers. Platte County Emergency Manager Tim Hofbauer said the recent warm weather and rain has cleared the ice jam on the Loup River for the most part, but ice has continued to be of concern. Pearson said the weather is acting as predicted since the forum occurred.
“I think it’s all coming into fruition for the most part,” Pearson said. “There’s just too much rain going into the river for something not to happen, and people should be on high alert.”
Lakeview High School was dismissed early on Wednesday due to these deteriorating road conditions (Columbus Public Schools is on Spring Break). Superintendent Aaron Plas said the district will continue monitoring the situation, but at the moment school should continue as normal for the rest of the week.
"We wanted to make sure everyone could get home safe while they still could get there," Plas said about the decision to release school early. "I never thought in my career that I could have to call off school due to flooding."
The City of Columbus on Wednesday issued a release stating it has increased the number of large pumps on hand. If needed, they are located at the four Loup River outfall drainage basins within Columbus. The levee is expected to maintain structural integrity, but the press release stated it will continue to remain under observation through the storm.
The city has asked residents to not drive over the levee, disturb the soil or place any foreign material or structure on the levee or near the toe drain system to help maintain it.
Columbus Mayor Jim Bulkley said the city is currently monitoring the weather and is prepared to take the necessary actions when needed.
“Let's face it, this is a pretty catastrophic event,” Bulkley said. “We just got a lot to work through the next couple of days ... We’re aware and trying to stay ahead of the situation the best we can.”
Hofbauer said his main concern is with the rain and melted snow entering tributaries like Shell Creek near Platte Center that will cause the Loup River to rise over the next couple of days. Platte County is currently monitoring the situation and providing sandbags to those affected. Andrea Bakersfield is one of the people who has taken advantage of the county's free sandbags. Her day on Wednesday began at 1 a.m. by filling up sandbags at the T-Bone Truck Stop. She returned about 10 a.m. with her fiance, Clark Swihart, to fill up more, with a goal of grabbing about 20 total.
The couple live in the Gans Lake area, south of Columbus, and has experienced flooding in their basement from water runoff. Although many in their neighborhood have left to stay with friends and family on higher ground, the couple said they are determined to protect their property the best they can from the pooling water. Scott Wagner was also there filling sandbags at the truck stop. He said he lives on Third Street in Columbus and has experienced flooding in his backyard garage.
“I live in town, so I didn't expect it,” Wagner said about the flooding. “My whole block is pretty (much) underwater right now.”
As water begins to rise, an area of concern are the homes near the rivers and by Wagner Lakes. Wagner Lakes Association Vice President Nick Larson said there have been no reports of flooding around the lake as of noon on Wednesday. The association has lowered the lake level by about 10 inches over the past few weeks via a drainage system into the Loup River, so he said there shouldn’t be too much of a concern of the lake overflowing.
“I think everyone in Platte County has reasons to be concerned, but I haven't heard any reports of flooding,” Larson said. “I’m optimistic we’ll get through this."
Today was expected to bring a high temperature of 37 and low of 25 with winds and a chance for snow, according to AccuWeather. That follows a night that was expected to bring more heavy rain and a thunderstorm.
Kim Berger is a resident of the Medinger Sunrise subdivision, an area east of Columbus that has experienced flooding in the past. She said Wednesday several plots in the area are flooded with water and several neighbors have started sandbagging with concerns of their basements flooding, with one resident filling up 55 sandbags alone.
“It’s bad out here,” Berger said. “The water out here has always been crazy, and now it’s going to be worse.”
Managing Editor Matt Lindberg also contributed to this story.
Eric Schucht is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.