College students Rochelle Dukes, left, and Deidre Hicks take a break from their studies and spend a little quiet time at Riverfront Park Feb. 20, 2013. The Flint River water level is higher than usual because of recent rain storms passing through the state and more rain is forecast for today and Tuesday. Officials expect the river to crest Thursday at 27 feet in Albany, a foot above flood stage. (Feb. 24, 2013)
ALBANY, Ga. — Public safety and public works officials are keeping their eyes on the creeks and rivers as they swell ... and on the skies, where as much as another half-foot of rain is expected to fall today and into early Tuesday.
While Sunday was a respite from the rains that have brought 12.65 inches of rain to Albany according to the gauge at Southwest Georgia Regional Airport, the National Weather Service office in Tallahassee, Fla., which covers the Southwest Georgia region, is predicting in addition to the heavy rain, some wind as high as 20 mph and thunderstorms.
Albany Fire Chief James Carswell said Sunday evening that the latest Weather Service predictions were calling for 4-6 inches of rain. The latest projection is for the Flint River to crest Friday at 27 feet — one foot above flood stage — while the Kinchafoonee Creek in southern Lee County will have a more moderate flooding effect by reaching 17.3 feet, 4.3 feet above its flood stage.
"That's a very fluid number," Carswell said of the 27-foot prediction for Albany, "just because of the anticipation of the rain, how much and where it falls." The projection has changed "a couple of times" in the past two days.
"It really depends on what happens with that (new) water," he said.
The prediction for the Flint River at Albany is that it will reach the 27-foot level at 7 a.m. Friday. At 4:30 p.m. Sunday, the river at Albany was at 14.21 feet.
The biggest impact of the water will likely be just north — and to the south — of Albany.
"I think the immediate concern is the Kinchafoonee," he said, adding water that high would impact homes near the creek in both Lee and Dougherty counties. "Several houses will be affected," he said.
The impact along the Flint will be minor, which the additional rain causing flash flooding problems at locations where that historically happens in times of heavy rain, he said.
"We're watching it and we'll see what happens," Carswell said, adding that local emergency and public works officials are preparing for the most severe possibilities while hoping for the best outcomes.
The amount of anticipated flood damage in Lee County around the Kinchafoonee Creek comes down to "a matter of inches", according to Lee County Fire Chief and Emergency Management Director James Howell.
The water level on the Kinchafoonee was at 11.47 feet in the Pinewood Road on the creek at 4:30 p.m. Sunday. That mark, Howell said, is roughly a foot below what the National Weather Service initially predicted.
Despite the lower-than-expected rainfall Saturday, Howell said the creek was expected to reach 13 feet Sunday night or early today, which qualifies as minor flood level.
"Minor flood stage has very little effect on us," Howell said.
The creek is now predicted to crest Thursday around noon at 17.3 feet, Howell said.
"If we're at 17.3 feet, we'll have some road closings, some water right on the edge of being in several homes in low-lying areas along the creek," he said. "It will be a matter of inches."
"Hopefully, it will be more or less a flood of inconvenience," Howell said. "By that I mean we'll have some road closings but there will be alternate routes that can be used.
"We likely will have some houses surrounded by water where the residents may have to park their vehicles on the road and wade through to get into them.
"Like I said, it may come down to inches as to whether they have water in the homes."
Howell warned that things could change based on the amount of rainfall the area gets today and Tuesday.
"We'll have a better understanding in a day or two," he said. "It's a slow moving process and we're impacted by the waterfall in Sumter and Schley counties and how it gets down the creek to us."
Howell said the cresting prediction is for the Pinewood Road area on the creek. Homes on the southern end of the county may not see cresting until Friday or Saturday.
Despite the uncertainty, Howell said he believes in planning for the worst.
"We preach the sky is falling but hope for the best," he said.
Not all of the problems felt in Southwest Georgia will be from rising water. Worth County, which has a large number of dirt roads, has canceled school today because the heavy rain has made many of those roadways impassable.
On Sunday, public works employees were filling sandbags and giving them to residents who might need them, he said.
The accumulation of water that fell north of Albany and south if it will be flowing down river, where communities like Newton, Baconton and Bainbridge will be affected.
Downstream in Newton, the service projects that the Flint will reach its 24-foot flood stage around Thursday and crest at 25.8 feet, also at 7 a.m. Friday. At 4:30 p.m. Sunday, the river was at 15.17 feet.
The Muckalee Creek near Leesburg, which reaches flood stage at 15 feet, is expected to stay below that level. The service predicts that it will crest at 13.3 feet at 1 a.m. Thursday, dropping to 12.8 feet by 7 a.m. Friday. The creek was at 10.8 feet at 4:30 p.m. Sunday.
Meanwhile, Spring Creek near Iron City, which has a 16-foot flood stage, is expected to reach 20.27 feet at 1 p.m. Tuesday. The creek, which was at 13.45 feet at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, is expected to fall to 15.92 feet by 10:15 a.m. Friday.
In preparing, officials are also looking at the wind and thunderstorms that Weather Service officials say are likely with today's rainfall.
"There's supposed to be more wind with this next one than with the last one," Carswell said. "We'll react to whatever we have."