`PRAY FOR NO RAIN' Floodwaters in Tulsa area not expected to rise
City and county officials said they believe the Arkansas River's floodwaters will stabilize through Sunday but want the public to remain cautious and prepared in the event more rain falls and scraps those plans.
At a Friday news conference, officials updated flood conditions throughout Tulsa County, addressed flow rates from the Keystone Dam and urged people to stay away from the water, with Tulsa's mayor sharply criticizing parents who allowed their children to play in the floodwaters.
The river reached 22 feet, the edge of major flood stage, on Friday morning and is expected to stay there as long as the Keystone Dam continues its release at 250,000 cubic feet per second.
The river level was lower Friday morning than the initial forecast of 23 feet, in part because experts believe last week's high-volume release likely increased the river's capacity ever so slightly.
“Fortunately, that week of high release prior to this event seems to have scoured out the river,” said Joe Kralicek, director of the Tulsa Area Emergency Management Agency. “I think that's saved a lot of homes and a lot of people.”
The Arkansas River's distinctive sandbars through the Tulsa area were likely swept away under the pressure of 100,000 cubic feet per second last week, Kralicek said.
That scouring made the river channel about 9 inches deeper in the Tulsa area, something Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said made a big difference in mitigating some of the flooding along the riverfront.
Despite this, the current release is the heaviest load on Tulsa County levees since 1986. The flow itself isn't the greatest concern; it's the length of time those levees are under pressure.
Bynum said a crew from Crossland Construction worked through the night Thursday in the Garden City neighborhood to build a new levee to contain a leak.
“I want to give a deep sense of gratitude and thanks to the team at Crossland Construction,” Bynum said. “This morning, that new levee is in place, and it is protecting the Garden City neighborhood.”
An estimated 1,100 Tulsa residents were affected by flooding. About 700 more, between Sand Springs, Jenks and Bixby, also were impacted. An estimated 160 homes in Broken Arrow were expected to be affected, an official said.
There have been no reported injuries or deaths due to flooding in the Tulsa area, according to a city spokeswoman.
Statewide, emergency management officials report 83 injuries in connection to the severe weather and flooding. Two deaths have been attributed to flooding and severe weather: a 53-year-old woman in Payne County and a 58-year-old man in Stephens County.
Also, a woman died from a medical issue while seeking shelter from a tornado in Jay this week, according to the town's police chief.
Friday morning, Bynum said a flyover gave him a new perspective on the flood control measures built across Tulsa through the years.
“The main thing that stands out to me in looking at that is tremendous gratitude for the people that came before us in decades past who fought to build the levee system we have that is working the way it's supposed to,” Bynum said. “(They) thought to utilize our River Parks network as a buffer for flooding events between the river corridor and the built environment of the city; and the River Parks are serving that purpose right now.”
Although officials believed the planned water release from Keystone would be enough through Sunday, that plan depends on weather.
Storms that produced flash flood warnings developed west of Tulsa on Friday night and moved eastward. A flash flood watch is in effect until 7 p.m. Wednesday for Tulsa, Craig, Creek, Nowata, Osage, Pawnee, Rogers and Washington counties.
U.S. Sen. James Lankford said during the news conference that Keystone Dam is working as designed but what happens next depends on the weather.
“We need to right now pray for no rain,” Lankford said. “And we need to stay out of the water.”
The problematic forecast is why officials want the public to remain aware.
Kralicek said the Tulsa Area Emergency Management Agency has prepared for the possibility of a release of more than 300,000 cubic feet per second from the Keystone Dam. Outflow from the dam was at 255,000 cfs Friday night and inflow had dropped from nearly 320,000 at its peak to 240,000.
“We planned for the flood of record, which is 307,000 cubic feet per second,” Kralicek said. “We're well below our established plan where we're at right now. Rest assured, even if the water comes up a bit, we are ready to act. The community at large, we have been preparing for this.”
The Army Corps of Engineers releases water from Keystone Dam into the Arkansas River on Friday, when the rate remained at 250,000 cubic feet per second.
Traffic crosses Keystone Dam as water is released from Keystone Lake into the Arkansas River.