Mississippi River water levels are dropping to historic lows due to drought

Dredge Jadwin, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredging ship, operates south down the Mississippi River on Oct. 19 last Commerce, Mo.
Dredge Jadwin, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredging ship, operates south down the Mississippi River on Oct. 19 last Commerce, Mo. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

Suspension

PORTAGEVILLE, Missouri – Perched in a spot of riverbed that’s usually deep underwater, Sandra Nelson collects rocks and urns as a souvenir. Nearby, a man with a metal detector roamed the wasteland in search of treasures at dusk. A father carried his daughter on his shoulders to witness a sight not seen in generations.

“I had to see it in person,” Nelson, who lives 40 miles away in Sexton, Missouri, said Monday. In the evening she wanders through the landscape, which was almost desert-like. “You wouldn’t believe this is the Mississippi River.”


6 months difference in

Relative soil moisture

navigable

waterway meters

in or below

low water

threshold

Soil moisture data provided by Jonathan Case of ENSCO,

and NASA SPoRT Center

A 6-month difference in the relative humidity of the soil

navigable

waterway meters

in or below

low water

threshold

Soil moisture data provided by Jonathan Case of ENSCO, Inc.

NASA’s SPoRT Center

A 6-month difference in the relative humidity of the soil

navigable waterway

counters at or below

low water threshold

Soil moisture data provided by Jonathan

The case of ENSCO, Inc. NASA’s SPoRT Center

A 6-month difference in the relative humidity of the soil

navigable waterway

counters at or below

low water threshold

Soil moisture data provided by Jonathan

The case of ENSCO, Inc. NASA’s SPoRT Center

A 6-month difference in the relative humidity of the soil

navigable waterway

counters at or below

low water threshold

Soil moisture data provided by Jonathan

The case of ENSCO, Inc. NASA’s SPoRT Center

The most powerful and legendary waterway in the country has been stifled by months of dry conditionsAs a result, the water level has fallen to historically low levels. For weeks now, this slow crisis has made it difficult, if not impossible, to move boats down a river that serves as a highway for about 60 percent From foreign corn and soybeans.

The result is a season of uncertainty for the many upstream and downstream who depend on it for their livelihoods, from farmers planting crops to tugboats guiding boats toward the Gulf of Mexico and back. Deep concerns about a disrupted supply chain mingled with the curiosity of people who flocked to the banks of the Mississippi to marvel at a sight few remember.

Aerial photos and meteorological data They help explain the seriousness of the situation: sandy sands line a narrow river channel, as a result of the lack of precipitation and drought. Soil across the Missouri River Valley to the west and the Ohio River Basin to the east.

Historically, the meandering river was marked by wide flood plain That would amplify during wet years, while dry years would leave deeper puddles and spots throughout the waterway, said Olivia Dorothy, senior Mississippi Basin director for advocacy group American Rivers.

But the river has since changed due to dams, dams and other structures, engineered to maintain a central channel that carried barge movement that was essential to trade along the Mississippi River. But the river has become very dry, and this central channel is all about what flows in some places these days.

Levels have sunk so low that many boat ramps don’t extend far enough to reach the water. Basins that usually float easily sit sloping and anchored to the banks of rivers. The stretches of the river have turned into a marvel of drought, drawing spectators to places like a cul-de-sac outside Portageville.

Jarrod Tipton brought his son, Jackson, to testify in his Spider-Man pajamas.

“He’s seven, and I told him we needed to come here because he’d probably never see something like that again in his life,” Tipton said. “You can almost walk to Tennessee,” he said, gazing across the lone sliver of water that remained between him and the far bank.

It is one of the many sites that spectators have flocked to. Low water levels revealed a Century-old shipwreck And make it easy for visitors to access Tower Rocka prominent rock formation south of St. Louis and usually an island walk.

At the Memphis Yacht Club, where dozens of boats perch on the mud, General Manager Joe Weiss has plenty of free time on his hands, and finds himself hauling a batch of long-forgotten items that the drought has revealed at the river bed: grills, umbrellas, tables, chairs, and a fire extinguisher and so on. “My daughter found a pair of Ray Bans,” he said.

In this part of the country, rising waters are usually a bigger concern – the last major floods Hit in 2019Just this summer, deadly floods hit parts of the Missouri And the Kentucky. But now it faces dry, ominous long-term predictions.

The only cure? rain. And not only rain where the Mississippi River is now low, but farther north, in the tributaries on which it depends.

“When we worry about the river, we always go north to Kentucky, where the Ohio and Mississippi rivers meet together,” said Will Maples, an agricultural economist at Mississippi State University.


Gage River in

low water levels

Low stage: 9.4 feet

Monitored: 6.7 feet

Low stage: -1.5 feet

Observatory: -3.8 ft

Low stage: 6.0 ft

– 0.1 ft

Low stage: 7.0 ft

– 0.3 ft

Low stage: 0.0 ft

– 9.9 feet

Low stage: 5.0 feet

– 9.3 feet

Low stage: -2.0 ft

– 11.49 ft

river view in

This turn

Approximately

1,190 ft

Low stage: 3.0 ft

Observed: -3.0 ft

Low stage: 9.4 feet

Monitored: 6.7 feet

Low stage: -1.5 feet

Observatory: -3.8 ft

Low stage: 6.0 ft.

Observed: -0.1 ft.

Low stage: 7.0 ft.

– 0.3 ft.

Low stage: 0.0 ft.

– 9.9 feet.

Low stage: 5.0 feet

– 9.3 feet

Low stage: -2.0 ft

– 11.49 ft

Low stage: 3.0 ft

Observed: -3.0 ft

Low stage: 9.4 feet

Monitored: 6.7 feet

Low stage: -1.5 feet

Observatory: -3.8 ft

Low stage: 6.0 ft.

Observed: -0.1 ft.

Low stage: 7.0 ft.

– 0.3 ft.

Low stage: 0.0 ft.

– 9.9 feet.

Low stage: 5.0 feet

– 9.3 feet

Low stage: -2.0 ft.

– 11.49 ft.

Low stage: 3.0 ft.

Observed: -3.0 ft.

Some short-term relief arrived Tuesday as storms brought more than an inch of rain to rain-starved parts of the Mississippi Basin. But while the rain had been torrential for a while on the hungry river, it didn’t last long.

Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in their forecasts for the coming winter Expect worsening drought conditions In the lower Mississippi Valley, where a climate pattern known as La Niña is expected to bring dry conditions to the southern United States.

“Right now there is no end in sight,” said Lisa Parker, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Valley Division of the Army Corps of Engineers.

Taming the Great Mississippi River

The Army Corps regularly dredged the river bed to maintain a channel at least nine feet deep, enough to float the tugboats and the barges they push. The river banks are also dotted with structures that extend from the banks towards the center of the river, and are designed to send water flowing toward the channel and create currents that help maintain its depth.

Parker said the Corps has had five ships on the river in recent weeks to conduct emergency dredging, which is necessary when barges break down and the channel becomes impassable. Each time, the river channel is closed for at least 12 to 24 hours, further disrupting the already slow boats movement.

Other man-made infrastructure on the river, such as dams Which Dorothy estimates that more than 90 percent of the river line south of St. Louis, is designed to keep floodwaters off farmland, roads and ports.

Drought “shows us the other extreme,” said Clint Wilson, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Louisiana State University and director of its Center for River Studies.

“We designed it to enhance this mobility, enable commerce and commerce, and reduce risks to communities and ports. But at the end of the day, it is still Mother Nature that supplies us with water.”

Daniel Wolf Contribute to this report. ESA Sentinel-2 images were used on 17 October. October 25 measurement data was obtained by the USGS. Soil moisture data was provided by Jonathan Case of ENSCO Inc. And the NASA’s SPoRT Center.

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