The swollen Arkansas River that brought a record-breaking flood to the Fort Smith region has begun its descent.

The river at 5 p.m. Sunday was observed at 39.02 feet after it crested at 40.79 feet overnight Friday, according to National Weather Service data. Forecasters on Sunday predicted this stretch of river to continue to pull back from its record levels and fall into moderate flood stage, which is less than 31 feet, by Tuesday evening.

Forecasters predict the floodwater will slow after it reaches 29 feet on Wednesday but continue to go down.“It’s going to stay in flood for a while,” Lacy said. “Yes, it’s dropping, but it’s going to stay in major flood for the next couple of days and then drop into moderate flood and level off.”

The river in May rose to historic levels after U.S. Army Corps of Engineers workers released large amounts of water following record floods upstream from Tulsa. It broke the Van Buren gauge record of 38.1 feet on May 26 and has displaced hundreds in the area.

Incoming rain will not likely stop the flood from receding, NWS Meteorologist Mike Lacy said. NWS forecasters on May 26 predicted thunderstorms on May 29 and a chance of thunderstorms Sunday and Monday night in Fort Smith. Their forecast mirrored that of Tulsa, which is upstream from the Fort Smith region.

Lacy noted that the floods came from rain that first fell in Kansas and then in northeast Oklahoma. He said most of the rain in the coming days will fall in southeast Oklahoma and western Arkansas.
“It’s not going to be a repeat event,” said Lacy.

Crawford County Emergency Management Director Brad Thomas said he is happy to see the floodwaters recede because he and other area officials will be able to assess damage. He said some of the heaviest home damage in Crawford County is in the Yoestown Bottoms area, which officials last week feared would be submerged by a section of levee that slid with the flow of the river.

Even though the waters have begun to recede, Lacy and Thomas said residents should still remain cautious around flooded areas.

“I want everyone to remain vigilant, because we’re not out of the woods yet. We still have water on our levees,” said Crawford County Emergency Management Director Brad Thomas.

“If you’re told to evacuate a certain area because of the flooding, follow the directions of your first responders or local officials, but the situation should continue to improve over the coming days,” Lacy said.