Tropical Storm Barry presents New Orleans with an unprecedented problem, according to the National Weather Service.
The Mississippi River, which is usually at 6 to 8 feet in midsummer in the Big Easy, is now at 16 feet, owing to record flooding that’s taken place this year all along the waterway.
In the meantime, Barry is spinning away in the Gulf of Mexico, threatening a storm surge of 2 to 3 feet at the mouth of the river, said Jeffrey Graschel, a hydrologist with the weather service’s Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center in Slidell, Louisiana.
The unusual confluence of factors adds up to a forecast that has the river cresting Saturday at 19 feet, a level not seen since February 1950 and about 2.3 feet shy of the record set in April 1922, the weather service said Thursday.
“This is the first time we’ve had a tropical system with water levels on the river this high,” he said.
The prediction is rattling the nerves of residents also concerned about the 10 inches of rain Barry could dump before it moves out, CNN senior meteorologist Dave Hennen said. That deluge would follow the 9 inches that fell Wednesday in New Orleans, flooding parts of the city.
Barry, set to be the first tropical system to hit the United States this year, is moving slowly, the weather service said. Residents of the coast and in the lower Mississippi Valley could see heavy rainfall through the weekend and into early next week, with flash flooding, river flooding and storm surge likely.