NEW ORLEANS -- The Mississippi in the New Orleans area has been rising steadily for the past two weeks. That's due to recent heavy rainfall in the Midwest.

Monday, the Carrollton gauge on the river hit 12.3 feet.

The National Weather Service is warning that the Mississippi could hit flood stage, 17 feet, by the third or fourth week of January.

Typically, the river doesn't hit levels like that until April or May.

"We do have times when we've had high water in the December-January time period, but if we reach the values that we're looking at for this event, they will be record levels for the time of year," said NWS hydrologist Jeff Graschel.

Flood flight procedures are already in effect in the metro area.

More restrictive measures along the levees are expected to kick in next week when the river is expected to hit 15 feet.

"At that point, we'll be inspecting the system daily," said Army Corps of Engineers Chief of Emergency Management Mike Stack. "So, instead of a couple times a week that we're doing now in phase one, we'll be out on the system with the local levee districts looking for any issues."

Excavation work will also be prohibited within 1,500 feet of the levees.

The opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway is also a possibility if the flow of the river hits 1.25 million cubic feet per second.

"What we're doing now is compiling the information, looking at what we think those flow rates will be and then we'll be able to come up with a recommendation on whether or not we need to open the spillway," Stack said.

The National Weather Service says the height of the river could be close to the May 2011 levels.

That's the last time the Army Corps opened the spillway.

"It really is very early to say what the levels will peak at on the lower part of the river, since we don't have cresting conditions on the upper part quite yet."

The Mississippi River is now expected to crest near Cairo, Illinois on Jan. 5.

It would then take approximately two weeks for the lower Mississippi to reach its highest levels.