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. Gregory Faith

    CNN censors kiss my butt!

    July 19, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
  2. tomas

    If i knew who Tylerk was and I am a Dr. I would let him/her die. CNN can't be desperate for comments to let BullS# go thru. Go to Fox and post that.

    July 19, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Todd in DC


    Global warming causes rapid fluctuations in weather patterns. Extreme weather becomes common. Lots of 100 year events occur often.

    Think the snowmaggeddon, this drought, the forest fires, the broiling summer, the ridiculously mild winter... That's climate change

    As for global warming, the earth is heating up. Yes that can mean colder temperatures in local regions, but as a whole, this entire planet is breaking records.

    Look for dieback to begin in the underdeveloped countries in a decade or 2

    July 19, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • alumette

      hey...about 12/21/2012...did you forget that one ? planetary alignment....a big cosmic deal. We may be up to some big surprises.....planning to sail the very high seas ? interested in living in a cave about 12.000 feet in the mountains ? if not, you may want to bend over and kiss your ass "good bye".....just in case.

      July 19, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Check in here on the 22nd, will you?

      July 19, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • decredico

      Except there have not been so many 100 year events. AND, it is possible to have several hundred year events back to back and that does not mean the climate is changing, and certainly does not mean it is anthropomorphic.

      July 19, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jerry


      July 19, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Githm


      July 20, 2012 at 1:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Dennis

      You mean like "dieback" like the "dieback" that was going to happen this decade...or do you mean the "dieback" that was going to occur in the 1970s from global cooling? Or do you mean the "dieback" from acid rain?

      it's called cyclical record. I know 115 years of recorded water levels and rain patterns SEEMS like a lot to you but even in terms of European Colonization of North America it's only 1/4 of our time here. There have been hotter periods in Earth's history and there have been periods with MORE CO2 in the atmosphere...both when there were no humans on Earth at all. Is the Earth getting hotter? maybe in a short term...maybe it's getting hotter long term as well...but we're not at historically high temperatures for the planet Earth. Not even close.

      July 19, 2012 at 7:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • govgeeks

      Yup... I'd say that by 2050 we're gonna see some REAL shifts, Todd. I'm in Ohio, and I'm expecting that I'll have a Dallas / San Antonio type weather pattern. Jet stream moves higher into Canada, we begin to get more of a binary "rain/dry" season set like the countries that currently lie between Mexico and the Equator. Our food supply is going to be challenged, and suddenly we aren't going to be buying $0.99 cheese burgers anymore. We'll be lucky if we aren't begging for international assistance by 2100...

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

      Where the heck do you get .99 cent cheeseburgers now a days?

      July 19, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve Lyons

      It can't be "man made" according to Obama it was government made.........

      July 19, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Philip

    Maybe this year we won't have the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico from the lack of fertilizer nutrients washing down the big muddy. Maybe this is the year the fish stocks will return and jobs will be created from the abundance of marine life returning. Maybe this year those in charge will realize it is time to stop killing the Gulf of Mexico.

    July 19, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • sparky


      July 19, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • wrong philip

      There will be the same amount of agricultural product more concentrated in less available water, so your theory is likely backwards

      July 19, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      The fish won't be back in your lifetime thanks to the oil spill and the Corexit dumped there by BP. Since there is less fresh water coming in the death will only accelerate.

      July 26, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
  5. jimmy

    last year the mississippi was near record highs because of global warming. this year it is near record lows because of global warming. next year it will be average because of global warming.

    July 19, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      I know.. curious isn't it... next thing they'll say is that the sun went down yesterday because of global warming lol

      July 19, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Charlie

      All Weather events are due to global climate change.

      July 19, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • sparky

      you don't actually KNOW what climate change is do you Jimmyhat? Just gonna magpie the rightwing rhetoric eh?

      July 19, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      Attributing a single weather event to global warming is nonsense. Even for the people who do it. Denying the entire phenomena when data is EASILY available for you to look up and see for yourself is beyond nonsense, it's stupidity at it's finest.

      July 19, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • rosie

      Your post made my head hurt. ;-))

      July 19, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Semantics101

      Before you go preaching Global warming, you should get educated in physics, chemistry, biology and history. Other wise your following a hersay of sceptics.
      Granted releaseing gases into the atmosphere isn't ideal, but you would learn in chemistry that covalent bonds of molecules break down and the heavier ones (specific gravity) settle to the ground and fossilize over again.
      Physics will teach us that our orbit isn't the same every year, it changes slitely over time and charged particles from space are obsorbed into the magnetic field; aka (Northern Lights). If Northern light are being seen further south then it's a possibility there a slight tilt in the axis and thewinter soltice will appear warmer in some spots and cooler in others..
      We have only existed on Earth for seconds and we know the Earth fluxuates. Those who adapt understand and adjust.

      Getting a better grasp on our civil infastructure isn't such a bad idea. If I were Emporer, that just might be one of the things I would propose.

      July 19, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Ed

    Seems like every 25 years or so there would be a drought in upstate New York and all the headlines were that N.Y. city was running out of water. Then it finally rains and it is all forgotten till it happens again in 25 years or so. The same thing with Lake Lanier in Atlanta and countless other examples. There has been drought and flood recorded as far back as written history. i guess we have had global warming forever.

    July 19, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thermion7

      so the evidence you seek is something unprecedented... that hasnt ever occured in 6 billion years? you win.

      July 19, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jim

    Blame it on bush and global warming: if the river overflows, under flows, we're too cold, too hot: whatever the problem with any climate matters, blame it on Bush and the GOP (has nothing to do with the fact we are basically a ball of molten metal 8000 miles across with a thin crust flying thru space at many thousands of miles an hour in a universe with trillions of nuclear explosions always going on. It's a wonder our little planet is as stable as it is!) BUT, any changes in the climate must be attributable to the GOP. 🙂

    July 19, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Godzilla


      July 19, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • rosie

      We are in a universe???

      July 19, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Tony C

    Are we talking the sakes Mississippi that was flooding last year? Sounds like the Army Corp of Engineers is under the influence...

    July 19, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Thermion7

    did they do this on the same movie set that the moon landing was filmed at?
    How do you fake a drought?

    July 19, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Godzilla

    They complain and moan when it FLOODS and now when it dries!!! Wish the media would stop being DRAMA QUEENS!!!!

    July 19, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Scott

    It may be worth noting that this particular river is a fairly shallow river to begin with...

    July 19, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Tom

    How long till the republican / tea party nitwits who live in this area have their hands out asking for federal aid (again)? For people who want government out of their lives so bad they sure do take a lot.

    July 19, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Kris

    This won't happen under Romney. He'll dance with snakes and so it shall be.

    July 19, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jim Brody

    He must know somethin', he don't say nuthin', he just keeps rollin' along.

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

    Corn syrup is not good for you anyway.

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