Drought sends 'mighty Mississippi' river levels near record lows
An aerial photo of the Mississippi river shows sandy areas where water had been before the drought. The river's levels are now nearing record lows.
July 19th, 2012
04:02 PM ET

Drought sends 'mighty Mississippi' river levels near record lows

The "mighty Mississippi" has lost some of its might with the season's epic drought taking its toll on river levels, which are falling to near historic lows.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will spend nearly $7 million dredging in an attempt to keep ports operational and keep the river open for barge traffic in the coming weeks. River levels in Memphis have dropped to within three feet of their historic lows from the 1988 drought.

In just one year, the river has gone through extreme fluctuation. Last May, it was within a foot of its record-high crest because of massive flooding, and today it's 55 feet lower and experiencing historic lows due to drought.

Dramatic images taken from NASA’s Terra satellite show the swollen river in late April of last year compared with images from early July this year. The expanse of the water was over 3 miles wide in parts of Missouri and Arkansas as levees were blown up in order to help protect the town of Cairo, Illinois from flood waters. The image taken July 2012 this year shows a much different story with the river less than a half mile wide in spots.

NASA’s Terra satellite shows the Mississippi River late April 2011 compared with images from early July 2012.

New data from U.S. Drought Monitor issued Thursday shows the drought has worsened in the past week, and now ranks as the second worst drought in U.S. history over the lower 48 since records began in 1895.

Nearly 64% of the contiguous United States is now in moderate to exceptional drought, second only to the summer of 1934, the height of the dust bowl era. Nearly 40% of the corn crop is now considered in poor or very poor condition, and this went up a sharp 8% in only a week.

During the 2012 crop year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has designated 1,297 counties across 29 states as disaster areas, making all qualified farm operators in the areas eligible for low-interest emergency loans. And on Monday the USDA designated 39 additional counties in eight states as primary natural disaster areas due to damage and losses caused by drought and excessive heat.

A dozen states on Thursday were under some sort of heat advisory or warning, many of them over the worst-hit drought areas. The heat wave is expected to last through much of the weekend, which means conditions will likely continue to worsen over the coming weeks.

And the Army Corps said that the shrinking of the Mississippi means that saltwater is beginning to work its way upriver, which could threaten some water supplies.

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That's not unprecedented, and there's no current threat to water supplies, but officials are prepared to start building an underwater barrier to block the denser saltwater from moving further upstream, Corps spokesman Ricky Boyett said Friday. The Corps last had to do that in 1999, he said.

soundoff (272 Responses)
  1. Brian

    Hey I have an idea... Let's pretend this climate change is all a hoax... I mean there were email conversations between academics speculating after all.

    July 19, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
  2. AZLib

    Please lets not not hear from those fly over red states that they need federal assistance and help. After all the federal gov is their enemy. Providing help might mean we would need to raise taxes on the super wealthy or reduce our spending on military (now double the next 20 largest countries combined). So good luck, hope rains..

    July 19, 2012 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Philip

    Global warming is entirely natural, modern day violent weather extremes are not. (most confuse the two)
    Our pollution offers shade to water, and so since the Industrial Revolution of 100 years ago, each year it takes water longer and longer to evaporate. (pan evap rate)
    Evaporating water is the engine that dirves weather, not climate.
    The world's climate has been warming at a natural rate. What our pollution has done is take this natural change and turned it into one with violent weather extremes.

    July 19, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jerry Pelletier

    Hmm ...Just 11 years ago it was at its record high....CNN Please make up your mind or just stop sensationalizing nonsense!

    July 19, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
  5. john

    well we know the planet is heating up and that part of the problem is us. As to the whole picture, who knows for sure. but if it continues the whole human race is going to have a major headache. instead of pointing fingers we need to try to find some solutions to tide us over this. instead we see obstruction, denile,and out right refusal to believe that it's even happening. Wake up and admit that we have a problem at least and tell you government to start making plans to protect at least some of us or this country will have a much smaller population in the next hundred years then we did yesterday. This is not a joking matter folks. I'm not an alarmist just a realist, and we do have a major crisis coming our way soon.

    July 19, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Philip

    For over 150 years in a row, scientists the world over have been keeping accurate tabs on the rate at which water evaporates.
    For a fact, it has been taking water longer and longer to evaporate each years since the Industrial revolutions started pumping billions of pounds of pollution into our atmosphere.
    Don't believe TV science talking heads. They are paid to tell each of their audiences what each wants to hear. (why Fox and CNN disagree. Their polls tell them what their audience wants to hear, and that's what they report or you would just change the channel and they would lose ad revenue)

    July 19, 2012 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
  7. LivingWater

    This takes me back to the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with Huck and Jim floating the down the Mississippi River on a raft trying to get to Cairo for Jim's freedom.

    July 19, 2012 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • George

      The reason we have floods and water shortages is because we are too shortsighted to build more water storage structures. Water is pretty important, isn't it?

      July 19, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse |
  8. GOP hate America

    Glen Beck says global warming is not real so its not real.

    July 19, 2012 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Weldon Gebhard

      I think he and others have doubts it is us or the natural rotation of earth environment over which we have little control.

      July 19, 2012 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Brick

    Why do people feel humans are responsible for climate change? Do you guys not realize how tiny we are compared to the SUN? The Sun is throwing out some major flares these days, and there have been a number of comets striking the sun as well causing explosions that reach earth. Stop believing those silly scientist because they don't have a clue. READ THE BILBE, IT TELLS ALL.

    July 19, 2012 at 7:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • longtooth

      Where can we buy this Bilbe?

      July 19, 2012 at 7:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • c s

      The bible tells all? Where in the bible is the Mississippi river mentioned?

      July 19, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Victor

      Yes, the BILBE says you All. Internet, Cell phone, landing on the moon, TV, radio, heart surgery, airplanes, relativity theories, atomic energy, etc.

      July 19, 2012 at 8:08 pm | Report abuse |
  10. HIDE BEHIND

    In the mid 12th century the very same atea experienced 60 years of drought, the big difference this time is an increase in mean temperatures.
    Think the mighty Miss cannot go dry. or the Coloroado, while the Miss drains a huge northernarea , if you ho to fed sites you will see almost every river is runming at recorpd lows and water impoundment levels becoming lower each day not weeks.
    Corp is already stretching thin with all the multiple dredgigs that have been added over normal yearly projects.
    Ee can argue until blue in face over causes but to deny that we as a nation are on the brink of a massve economic and environmental event??????????
    There are no words to describe or numbers to count,
    villages it took to raise so many village idiots.
    Take aa world view and this is not just US problem, our food basket south of border in worse shape than we.

    July 19, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paul

      Take a writing class, then come back and comment.

      July 19, 2012 at 7:21 pm | Report abuse |
  11. longtooth

    One more time. Climate change is a natural event .What scientists are concerned about is that it's happening more rapidly than ever before. Measurements of the polar ice caps going back thousands of years prove this. A rapid change in the temperature of the whole Earth can cause terrific storms, the like of which have never been seen. The average temperature of our planet is rising at unprecedented levels. But don't mind me. Go back to your radio.

    July 19, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
  12. govgeeks

    Well, I'm obviously not gonna convince the "Pray and Gawd-uh will save-uh us!!!"

    Oh, and Rascal, I go to church every Sunday, and meetings inbetween. I just don't go the the "Church of the Ignorant and Anti-intellectual who spends time on CNN trolling and telling everybody that CHURCH is the answer." Is that the Catholic Church? Or maybe the Church of Christ, Golden Path of Ridgefield Tennessee? I'd put more stock in your "God will punish the wicked" statement if you didn't think that everybody who disagreed with you was wicked.

    July 19, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • qularknoo

      you sound just like Noah's neighbors .....

      July 19, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Philip

    There is nothing cyclical about our violent daily weather extremes. Cyclical global warming, yes. But such vast extemes from one day to the next is all new.

    July 19, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Rizzo

    The earth has been changing since its birth ,Living things either adapt or they die .Man cannot change the climate or anything with nature . stop belly aching and worry about something you can control

    July 19, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Weldon Gebhard

    Global warming, ok! But is it us or natural rotations? I have always been of the thought that I should do everything possible to leave behind a clean environment, plant trees, conserve, be frugal. I have oft been laughed at as being tight but I don't belive in being wasteful. Recycling is available in my neighborhood of 30 homes and 5 of us use it. Sad.

    July 19, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Report abuse |
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