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. stop

    The comments on here are amazing, right or left! I'm amazed at the st*pidity that abounds in this great land. People so biased by their own agenda that they lose all common sense. This country is more divided than at any time since the Civil War and the majority are just as illiterate, with the exception of the fact that they now have the internet. Now, anyone can hack out an anonymous, slanderous barb on a keyboard. Even with spell-check, the language is usually butchered. Amazing! GOD help us. Yes...I said GOD. Ooooohhhh!

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

    ‚ÄúWe're so self-important. So arrogant. Everybody's going to save something now. Save the trees, save the bees, save the whales, save the snails. And the supreme arrogance? Save the planet! Are these people kidding? Save the planet? We don't even know how to take care of ourselves; we haven't learned how to care for one another. We're gonna save the planet? . . . And, by the way, there's nothing wrong with the planet in the first place. The planet is fine. The people are done ! Compared with the people, the planet is doin' great. It's been here over four billion years . . . The planet isn't goin' anywhere, folks. We are! We're goin' away. Pack your bags , we're goin' away. And we won't leave much of a trace. Thank God for that. Nothing left. Maybe a little Styrofoam. The planet will be here, and we'll be gone. Another failed mutation; another closed-end biological mistake.‚ÄĚ ~George carlin

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

    If there isn't a God who cares, we are all toast.
    Just plot population growth vs. HIV infection rates. By the year 2041, everyone will have aquired HIV.

    July 19, 2012 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
  4. skywatcher

    And then there is a thing called geo-engineering of the weather just look up the names of David Keith ,and look into owning the weather by 2025 from none other then the U.S.Air Force,
    Kissinger once said to control the people control the food.
    The trails from aircraft that don't go away are not contrails.And there is a start of a lawsuit against those behind this.

    July 19, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Bart Flaster

    I'm just glad that Mitt Romney is going to look out for the little guy.

    July 19, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse |
  6. c s

    The weather has certainly been different lately.

    Winter of 2010-2011, mounds and mounds of snow. Rain all spring and summer until August 2011 and then little rain and snow until May 2012. Then 6 inches of rain above normal for May. June comes and suddenly little rain and record high temperatures. Now a huge drought over 70% or 80% of the country. Thankfully Al Gore and his minions are wrong about global warming or else it would be much worse.

    Sarcasm.

    July 19, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jimmyyy

    All you bible thumpers, all you arm-chair scientists, all you savers, all you accusers, all you ad-hominum attackers, can argue and run around like fools, spewing all your favorite diatribes like big fat bloated parrots that you be. Me? I'm just gonna sit back and take my come-uppance like a man, knowing that we gonna get what we got coming, from whatever force is in control. Just think, no more mindless babbling amongst a bunch of buffoons on the internet about things they will NEVER have any understanding about OR have any control over. It's a win-win for planet earth ! hahahahhahahah!

    July 19, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gavincurtis

      Finally! One intelligent comment.

      July 19, 2012 at 9:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • angrybabykitty

      I second that! Finally some intelligence.

      July 19, 2012 at 9:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Buckee

      That's the spirit !!!!

      Considering that global warming won't get humans, jihadists with microbiological training and lab equipment will create some bugs that cause the end of the human species. Within ten years.

      July 19, 2012 at 10:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy¬©

      Ooga booga!
      Doubtful, Buckee.

      July 19, 2012 at 10:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Githm

      I overheard two locusts talking earlier today...I couldn't make out everything they were saying, but I did hear them say swarm...several times.

      July 19, 2012 at 11:15 pm | Report abuse |
  8. banasy©

    1) Yes and yes.
    2) People like to drive their own topic.
    3) I'm still looking, but probably not. Trolls are everywhere, as are the people who cannot stay on topic.
    4) We're off topic, lol. ūüėČ

    July 19, 2012 at 8:18 pm | Report abuse |
  9. freshnewblog

    I am from Vermont. I was born in Vermont and in 1993 I sat on the edge of The Missippi River and watched the barges slowly float by. I am pretty sure that I had bought a fresh peach from a local vendor. It was soooo beautiful. I felt like Mark Twain. I did not have enough money to stay down there.

    July 19, 2012 at 8:19 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Errogant 2

    @ Semantics101 You know just enough scientific vocabulary to prove you don't know jack about science.

    July 19, 2012 at 8:33 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Markho71

    Corn is all dead in Alabama. Not a serious drought in the southeast........ GMO crop failure ???? The dry conditions are a nice cover story. Thanks Monsanto.

    July 19, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Buckee

    No, No, and No.

    Mother Nature LOVES to throw curve balls, especially when some group of humans think they have figured it all out. Sorry.

    July 19, 2012 at 8:48 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Buckee

    That's three questions - can't you count ?????

    July 19, 2012 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Semantics Man

    Buckeen a giant snowball is headed your way, courtesy of Mother Nature. She pitches a wicked curve, but her aim is true!

    July 19, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Gerry Daley

    Well thank goodness we have Republicans to reassure us that it's just summer, this is normal, and global warming andclimate change are junk science...all evidence to the contrary.

    July 19, 2012 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse |
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