(Tunica County, MS) With the spring’s first flood headed down the Mississippi River and straight for him, Jim Clayton draws a slow breath and hopes for the best.
Clayton's keeping an almost hourly eye on the latest river stage charts.
"When it starts coming in, we watch it every day."
First word of the potential danger came over the weekend.
”Lots of rainfall north of us is gonna be channeling down the river and also on the Ohio,” WREG Meteorologist Austen Onek said on Daybreak Sunday.
Rain and melting snow from the eastern Ohio and Northern Mississippi Valleys have begun to swell the rivers, putting homes along the Tunica cutoff at some risk.
”Well, it’s just gonna go to 28 feet, according to the reports from the Corps of Engineers. That’s not gonna hurt us at all. It’ll just be to the top of the ramp,” said J.T. Smith of Tunica County.
For now they’re breathing easier, but remembering flood damage from the past.
After the last serious flood left about one-third of the cutoff uninhabitable, some landowners just gave up and let nature just take over again.
Clayton says he’ll never forget the historic floods of 2011.
"Wrecked a lot of people’s lives."
River forecasts then showed the cutoff out of danger, until the last minute.
”In 2011, where they held at it wouldn’t get above 45 and a lot of people didn’t get scared, and then lo and behold the next day it’s gonna get above 45," said Clayton.
It brought a mad scramble to higher ground, and that’s why people here keep a close eye during spring flood season, even when the forecast doesn’t look too threatening.
”Whenever the water starts coming, you start picking up stuff that you don’t want to get wet and get it out or higher or whatever,” said Smith.
And these people know from experience, nature can change its mind, quicker than most folks can react.
The Memphis advisory remains in effect until Friday, with river levels forecast at 28 feet, well below the flood stage of 34.