This story was updated Monday, Feb. 10, 2020, at 6 p.m. with more information.
With another 4 to 5 inches of rain expected to fall this week in Chattanooga, the rain-swollen Tennessee River here is projected to remain 6 to 7 feet above normal through the week as the Tennessee Valley Authority tries to cope with twice as much rainfall as normal so far this year.
"We expect rainfall pretty much every day this week through at least Thursday," said James Everett, senior manager of TVA's River Forecast Center in Knoxville. "This much rainfall on top of already saturated ground is creating significant runoff."
The heavy rains — and nearly 3 inches of snow Saturday in Chattanooga — have raised river levels and currents so much that most barge navigation along the Tennessee River is shut down and is likely to remain idled for at least another week.
"Shippers are looking for alternatives to get their goods in or out, looking at rail or trucks because unfortunately everything is all stuck right now on the river," said Cline Jones, executive director of the Tennessee River Valley Association and the Tennessee-Cumberland Waterways Council. "A few barges have had to turn around already. I'm afraid it's going to cause more problems to cascade as long as it is still raining. Hopefully, it won't be as bad as last year."
The National Weather Service has issued a flash flood warning until Tuesday evening in Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia and schools in Bradley, McMinn, Meigs and Polk are closing early today due to potential floods.
"We're in a wet pattern with some slow moving fronts from the Gulf creating more moisture and warmer temperatures than we normally have for this time of the year," said Tim Boyle, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Morristown, Tennessee. "This is second year in a row for this in February."
So far this year, more than 11 inches of rain has fallen across TVA's 7-state region, nearly double the normal level. Last February was the wettest February on record in the Tennessee Valley, and TVA river managers are seeing some similar rainy weather patterns again this year. The precipitation over the weekend included 2.7 inches of snow recorded at Chattanooga's airport on Saturday.
While warning residents, campers and boaters near or on the Tennessee River to be alert to high currents and water levels, Everett said he hopes to keep the Tennessee River at the Market Street Bridge at 2 to 3 feet below the 30-foot flood stage that the river crested at in Chattanooga a year ago.
The National Weather Service has issued a flash flood warning until Tuesday evening in Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia, and schools in Bradley, McMinn, Meigs and Polk counties closed early Monday due to potential flooding near the schools. Bradley County Schools and Whitfield County Schools in Georgia are closed Tuesday, as well.
"We're in a wet pattern with some slow-moving fronts from the Gulf creating more moisture and warmer temperatures than we normally have for this time of the year," said Tim Boyle, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Morristown, Tennessee. "This is the second year in a row for this in February."
TVA is using its network of 49 dams on the Tennessee River and its tributaries to help limit flooding, especially in drainage routes such as Chattanooga where thousands of acres of the Tennessee River watershed drains through the city.
"The big tributary reservoirs like Norris, Douglas and Fontana can absorb a lot of inflow, and we are using those reservoirs to hold back a lot of water," Everett said.
As a result, even after the rains end late in the week, river levels are expected to remain high as TVA drains down its upstream reservoirs to normal winter levels after the lakes have risen 16 to 20 feet in the past week.
Last year was the second highest rainfall on record in the Tennessee Valley, following the wettest year on record in 2018, according to TVA. In February of last year, TVA estimates, its flood control measures helped avert $1.4 billion of damages in Chattanooga from record high rains.
Contact Dave Flessner at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6340.