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. Gyno_American

    You cannot control the river. It is like pushing water uphill.

    July 19, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Ann

    I believe the correct word would be withers

    July 19, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
  3. David Doney

    We need to start diverting a lot of this fresh water to reservoirs rather than letting it flow into the Ocean. Maybe feed it to the Great Lakes.

    July 19, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Omar

      Wow you're dumb...

      July 19, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Justin

      How do you propose feeding the great lakes with rivers that flow south, when most rivers are south of the great lakes? Anything south of the Aleutian line flows south, and north of it the water flows into Canada.

      July 19, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Justin

      Also david, the water that feeds the great lakes, (minus Salt lake) is from the north atlantic. What I am really really really surprised about is the amount of flooding we've had up north, and it's had no effect on the mississippi river down south.

      July 19, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
  4. OPEN400

    Record floods one year. Record drought the very next year. At oen point do we accept the fact that we are affecting the climate with our energy policies?

    July 19, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Drought one year and historic floods the next....just like have occurred for thousands of years. Ever hear of the ice age?. Can't we just agree that our energy policies have absolutely no effect on global climate?

      July 19, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ed

      Who is our? Even if the U.S. decreased greenhouse gasses, it would be off-set by even more produced by an industrializing China and third world countries. All the U.S. would do is increase all our energy costs with no effect on the world enviroment since we have no control over other countries – icluding the most populated cotry of China.. Dream on if you think the U.S. is the solution to every problem or the whole world would follow the U.S. lead.

      July 19, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rhino59

      It's called "weather" you idiot. Weather changes from year to year. Do you feel the same way during the years when we're not seeing these extremes? I didn't think so.

      July 19, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ed

    There was as big a drought in the late 1950's, and in 1988. I guess global warming goes on and off during the past 60 year at will. Could it be that there are just weather cycles that happen as there has always been?

    July 19, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Siara

      You're right Ed. Cigarettes don't cause cancer either.

      July 19, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thermion7

      Jeez Ed...This story is about drought not about global warming- calm down.
      This is a bad drought not unprecedented... bigger than the 80's drought but still not as big as the 50s drought. Plenty big to have big consequenses.

      July 19, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Franny

      I don't know where you get your information, but this is the worst drought since 1956. Not the 80's. Maybe you need to watch something else besides Faux news?

      July 20, 2012 at 7:50 am | Report abuse |
    • glorydays

      Sure, if you don't have a brain....

      July 19, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rush

      Pattern? yea, there's a pattern: Since 1901, the 20 hottest years have all been since 1987, and every year since 1999. There's your pattern. Please get you head out of the sand, even tho I imagine it's cooler there.

      July 19, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • R Buchert

      10000 years ago there was a sheet of ice 1-2km thick that was sitting on top of where the Great Lakes are now located. No internal combustion engine. There is the magma which is extremely hot but is not effected by CO2. There has been climate change since the beginning of time. We need jobs. EPA impacting jobs for the sake of co2 levels is bs. We can have the jobs and still work toward more efficient systems. A lot of really smart 50 somethings have lost their careers and will never get them back because of this bs.

      July 24, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      Actually yes. Until a certain point we have no emission laws at all. Cities filled with smog. In the 60's and 70's we began implementing regulations on plant emissions, vehicle emissions, factory emissions. Check some dates and you will see the beginnings to regulate carbon emissions coincide almost exactly with the last major heat waves and drought.

      July 26, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • buckcameron

      Could it be you're hired by the oil industry.

      August 16, 2012 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
  6. wOT

    If my people who are called by my name would humble themselves.........

    July 19, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
  7. NeoGraphix

    At least the archeologists will have time to go back and study the wrecks that are now exposed in the river like they were doing in 1988.

    July 19, 2012 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
  8. banasy©

    Why on earth would anting *think* the Mississippi wouldn't be affected?
    Of course it would.
    It weathered the '88 drought, it will weather this one, too.

    July 19, 2012 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
  9. wOT

    Tylerk, I see your horns are out today!

    July 19, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
  10. CRH

    Did you blame global warming last year when the Mississippi River overflowed?

    July 19, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • biglio

      nope, that was due to climate change.....(as is global warming)...more heat trapping gases int he atmosphere, more energy trapped there, more extreme weather variations but the bottom line is that the temperatures are going up and influencing the climate extremes more and mroe.

      July 19, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • BP

      Umm, I don't know if I would attribute it to global warming per se, however, it was quite well understood that the primary reason for the flooding exerienced last year was due to the increase in melt from the snowpack up north. This year, however, the snowpack was nowhere near the same level and, as a result, there is much less to feed into the Missisippi River this year, leading to the lower levels. Coupled with the drought conditions (rainwater does feed to a certain degree into the river, of course, too), these levels are very low. Will they stay that way? I hope not.

      July 19, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • canucken

      Yes. You don't find it odd that we go from record or near record heights in one season to record or near record lows a few months later?? You think that's normal? I hate to point it out to you but it's not.

      July 19, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ralf The Dog


      July 19, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • ZTEAM

      CRH: The reason why global warming is often times called Global wierding is because of wierd weather patterns. The fact that we went from almost record levels last year for the missippi to headed towards record low levels this year is certainly not normal. Global warming just doenst mean temp spikes. Which is certainly happening as well. Obviously things are changing very quickly on earth and it is scary and it is because of what we are doing to out planet. No more facts support the opposite way of thinking. Just do research. just be careful you dont freak out when you finally realize the truth and what it means for you and I in this life time.

      July 19, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • GOP hate America

      yes we did

      July 19, 2012 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • MadJerry

      No man, when the climate does not follow a warming trend you call it climate change. Then when it gets warm again you can call it global warming.

      July 19, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Errogant 2

      Extremes in weather, and water levels, occurring over short periods of time fit every model of how climate change is effecting the weather. The wheat harvest was nearly three weeks early this year, which also fits with climate models that predicted a shift in growing seasons and a northward move of crop zones. It's happening. The reasons don't really matter, but making changes to adapt to the reality and lessen the very real negative impact of global warming does matter.

      July 19, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gerry Daley

      Global Warming does not mean no rain. It means, extreme heat, extreme amounts of rain, more severe weather...all of which is happening now. To admit it might actually mean that companies like Exxon, another money arm of the GOP, might have to do something different. In a few years, people will shake their heads at the mendacity and stupidity of the Republican Party.

      July 19, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • kobrakai7474

      All along the concern about global climate change has been the likelihood of increased occurrences of extreme weather... like... oh maybe flooding rains in one season followed by devastating drought in the next.

      July 20, 2012 at 2:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Barney

      It could very well be due to climate change.

      July 20, 2012 at 7:18 am | Report abuse |
  11. TruthAndJustice

    This is just more bogus global warming propaganda. There's no drought, there's been plenty of rain.

    July 19, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rhino59

      @ Truth & Justice – I'm the farthest thing from a Global Warming believer, but you're wrong, there is a drought this year. The Midwest hasn't gotten the timely rains and with every day it doesn't rain, the corn yields decrease. I'm just an old farm boy and this is just a rough year – some years it floods, some years it doesn't rain enough, and most years it's just right. It's part of life.

      July 19, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
  12. banasy©

    Very ugly.

    July 19, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Weaselboy77

      Your Ferengi reference is not wasted on me...

      July 20, 2012 at 4:48 am | Report abuse |
  13. dave barrow

    don't worry, just change your religion to Muslim, problem solved! you see, it says in the Koran that salt and fresh water don't mix, and everybody knows that the Koran is the latest and final word from God, so it has to be correct!

    July 19, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Hannah

    Think about all of the rivers that are fed by mountain glaciers. When they are gone so too are the rivers. And the aquifers will probably dry up and then where will we get our fresh water. It is a changing world and we are responsible. But let's keep using that coal and pumping that oil, by all means.

    July 19, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Effed

    And we're all gunna DIIIIEEEEEEEEEE

    July 19, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Buckee

      Someday !!!!!

      July 19, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Calling all good christians

      you just gave away the ending!!!!

      July 19, 2012 at 9:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Skeptimist

      "We're all going to die." Yup. Always have – even before tobacco and the industrial revolution. Difference is, we now seem to be taking a lot of other critters with us. Key issue: human population continues to expand as it consumes and shrinks the viable environment. The variables are currently too complex for specific predictions but a choke point appears inevitable.

      July 20, 2012 at 10:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Chik-Fil-Haaaaaaay!


      July 25, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
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