Isaac promises drought relief, lousy holiday

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Associated Press

Posted on August 31, 2012 at 2:32 PM

ST. LOUIS (AP) — When drought made Fourth of July fireworks a fire hazard, organizers in Chesterfield, Mo., decided to try again Labor Day weekend. Go figure: Now rain from the remnants of Hurricane Isaac has forced them to cancel again.

The storm is expected to drop several inches of rain over parts of Midwest this weekend, and residents are preparing for a soggy holiday with mixed emotions. People in drought-stricken areas have been begging, pleading and praying for rain. But did it have to ruin the end-of-summer party?

"Whoever thought we'd have a hurricane challenge this event again?" city of Chesterfield spokeswoman Libbey Tucker said. "Somebody joked that next time it will be snow that we'll have to cancel for."

After socking Louisiana and Mississippi with rain that caused flooding and winds that toppled trees and power lines, what's left of Isaac has been plodding north into states that badly need moisture. The worst drought in decades stretches from Ohio west to California. Isaac will move straight through some of the hardest hit states: Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. Lesser rain is expected to the west in portions of Oklahoma and Kansas.

State emergency agencies, city and county leaders and utility crews have been preparing for the deluge. In Indianapolis, a line of about 100 cars snaked from a Department of Public Works lot where free sandbags were being distributed Friday. Residents could pick up 25 bags filled with 30 to 50 pounds of sand, and DPW supervisor Stephen Brown estimated more than 180 people had picked up sandbags by noon.

Jenny Bland, 50, of Indianapolis, waited in line more than 90 minutes so she could pick up bags for her family and elderly neighbors.

"People are taking this very seriously," Bland said.

Their fears may be well-founded. Some regions in Arkansas have had more than 6 inches of rain since Thursday, and thousands lost power. Flash flood warnings were common on Friday, and there were concerns about thunderstorms and even tornadoes following in Isaac's wake.

The risk of severe weather is expected to diminish as the storm moves north, and although rainfall projections vary widely, most are in the 2- to 5-inch range. Meteorologist Jim Kramper, of the National Weather Service office in suburban St. Louis, said Missouri should see steady rain into Sunday, but not strong winds or storms. He said small pockets of flash flooding are possible, but nothing extreme.

"We're not looking for raging flash floods with water that just sweeps things away," Kramper said. "The fact that the rain is going to be spread over probably two days, that's good. We're looking at rainfall deficits of 9 to 12 inches in this state, so this isn't going to solve the problem, but it'll put a dent into it."

Along with fireworks, camping trips, football games and at least one parade — in Indianapolis — have been canceled.

The Cow Chip Classic in Chrisman, Ill., has never been canceled in its 30 years, but that record was in jeopardy. Organizers were watching the weather before deciding whether to run the annual cross country meet that takes middle and high school students through a cow pasture.

Chrisman High School Athletic Director Kelly Hilligoss wasn't optimistic. "It's looking rainy already here," he said.

About 120 of the 400 reservations for campsites at Patoka Lake in southern Indiana had been cancelled, said Nick Werner, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. At Brown County State Park in Nashville, Ind., manager Doug Baird said officials were warning campers who did show up not to ride horses or mountain bikes on what would likely be very muddy trails.

Dozens of high school football games were canceled, postponed or rescheduled. College teams, though, were prepared to play through the bad weather.

Illini fan Thomas Maton said a little downpour was nothing for a die-hard fan like himself. He planned to put his wallet and cell phone in plastic bags and wear clothes he doesn't mind getting soaked for the Illini opener Saturday against Western Michigan. He figured he'd sat through worse, including games in sub-freezing temperatures.

"There's a certain point in your mind where you cross a line, 'We're stepping out of sanity here,'" Maton said. "But it's like, what the heck, it's two to three hours."

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AP reporters Chuck Bartels in Little Rock, Ark.; Chris Blank in Jefferson City, Mo.; Tom Lobianco in Indianapolis; David Mercer in Champaign, Ill.; and Kurt Voigt in Fayetteville, Ark., contributed to this report.

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