Published August 31, 2012
ST. LOUIS – When drought made Fourth of July fireworks a fire hazard, organizers in Chesterfield, Mo., decided to try again Labor Day weekend. Go figure: Now rain from the remnants of Hurricane Isaac has forced them to cancel again.
The storm is expected to drop several inches of rain over parts of Midwest this weekend, and residents are preparing for a soggy holiday with mixed emotions. People in drought-stricken areas have been begging, pleading and praying for rain. But did it have to ruin the end-of-summer party?
"Whoever thought we'd have a hurricane challenge this event again?" city of Chesterfield spokeswoman Libbey Tucker said of the ill-fated fireworks display. "Somebody joked that next time it will be snow that we'll have to cancel for."
What's left of Isaac has been plodding north into states that badly need moisture. The worst drought in decades stretches from Ohio west to California. Isaac will move straight through some of the hardest hit states: Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. Lesser rain is expected to the west in portions of Oklahoma and Kansas.
State emergency agencies, city and county leaders and utility crews have been preparing for the deluge. In Indianapolis, a line of about 100 cars snaked from a Department of Public Works lot where free sandbags were being distributed Friday. Residents could pick up bags filled with 30 to 50 pounds of sand, and DPW supervisor Stephen Brown estimated more than 180 people had done so by noon.
Jenny Bland, 50, of Indianapolis, waited in line more than 90 minutes so she could pick up bags for her family and elderly neighbors.
"People are taking this very seriously," Bland said.
Fears were well-founded in Arkansas, where some regions have had more than 6 inches of rain since Thursday, and thousands lost power. Flash flood warnings were common, and tornado warnings extended into southern Missouri.
But further north, the concern — or hope, depending on your perspective — was mostly rain. Meteorologist Jim Kramper, of the National Weather Service office in suburban St. Louis, said Missouri should see steady rain into Sunday, but not strong winds or storms. He said small pockets of flash flooding were possible, but nothing extreme.
"We're not looking for raging flash floods with water that just sweeps things away," Kramper said. "The fact that the rain is going to be spread over probably two days, that's good. We're looking at rainfall deficits of 9 to 12 inches in this state so this isn't going to solve the problem, but it'll put a dent into it."
The downside was the rain was likely to make a washout of a usually festive weekend, with some events canceled and others moved inside.
Organizers of the Cow Chip Classic in Chrisman, Ill., were watching the weather before deciding whether to run the annual cross country meet that takes middle and high school students through a cow pasture. Chrisman High School Athletic Director Kelly Hilligoss wasn't optimistic.
"It's looking rainy already here," he said.
Dozens of high school football games were canceled, postponed or rescheduled. College teams, however, were prepared to play.
"That field's not going to be slick, and we don't have a Plan B," Arkansas coach John L. Smith said as the Razorbacks prepared to host Jacksonville State Saturday night in Fayetteville. Besides, he said, "The sun always shines on the Hogs."
In Champaign, Ill., Thomas Maton said a little downpour was nothing for a die-hard fan like himself. He planned to put his wallet and cell phone in plastic bags and wear clothes he doesn't mind getting soaked for the Illini opener Saturday against Western Michigan. He figured he'd sat through worse, including games in sub-freezing temperatures.
"There's a certain point in your mind where you cross a line, 'We're stepping out of sanity here,'" Maton said. "But it's like, what the heck, it's two to three hours."
The weather put a damper on tourism. Oleg Shneper, manager of the Extended Stay America hotel near Kings Island amusement park in suburban Cincinnati, received several cancellations because of the weather.
"People have called to say they can't get here because the rain is keeping them from getting out of airports," he said.
About 120 of the 400 reservations for campsites at Patoka Lake in southern Indiana had been cancelled, said Nick Werner, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
Those willing to brave the elements were urged to be careful. Officials at the Mark Twain National Forest in southern Missouri suggested staying away from river banks and other waterways prone to flash flooding. At Brown County State Park in Nashville, Ind., manager Doug Baird advised horse and bike riders to stay off muddy trails.
But Kramper, the meteorologist, said the long weekend shouldn't be a total washout. Sunny skies were expected throughout most of the Midwest on Monday.
AP reporters Chuck Bartels in Little Rock, Ark.; Chris Blank in Jefferson City, Mo.; Lisa Cornwell in Cincinnati; Tom Lobianco in Indianapolis; David Mercer in Champaign, Ill.; and Kurt Voigt in Fayetteville, Ark., contributed to this report.