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.

WQAD: Heat kills hundreds of Asian carp in local lake

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. ipmutt

    More hysterical reporting from mainstream media. Got to make you afraid.

    July 19, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jimmy T

    I call it. The land will be for sale in about 10 years and I am going to build condos there lol

    July 19, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Justin

    Mississippi River in the northern portion of its journey to the gulf is at flood stages. It will soon be back to normal down there too (i hope)

    July 19, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Rhino59

    @ Hannah – How did the earth warm up drastically years ago after the last Ice Age – when there was no man around to burn fossil fuels?

    July 19, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      Just because the earth warmed before human activity doesn't mean that humans can't cause warming now that there are 7 billion of us on the planet. what you are saying is like saying that humans can't cause fires now because fires happened before there were humans(caused by lightening, for example).

      For anyone who wants to know why 97% of climate scientists think that global warming is currently being caused by human activity:

      10 lines of evidence that humans are causing global warming / climate change by burning carbon
      (taken from http://skepticalscience.com/its-not-us.htm )

      1. Humans are currently emitting around 30 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.

      2. Oxygen levels are falling as if carbon is being burned to create carbon dioxide.

      3. Fossil carbon is building up in the atmosphere. (We know this because the two types of carbon have different chemical properties.)

      4. Corals show that fossil carbon has recently risen sharply.

      5. Satellites measure less heat escaping to space at the precise wavelengths which CO2 absorbs.

      6. Surface measurements find this heat is returning to Earth to warm the surface.

      7. An increased greenhouse effect would make nights warm faster than days, and this is what has been observed.

      8. If the warming is due to solar activity, then the upper atmosphere (the stratosphere) should warm along with the rest of the atmosphere. But if the warming is due to the greenhouse effect, the stratosphere should cool because of the heat being trapped in the lower atmosphere (the troposphere). Satellite measurements show that the stratosphere is cooling.

      9. This combination of a warming troposphere and cooling stratosphere should cause the tropopause, which separates them, to rise. This has also been observed.

      10.It was predicted that the ionosphere would shrink, and it is indeed shrinking.

      Please visit http://skepticalscience.com/argument.php to see what is wrong with the arguments of those who think climate change (which includes global warming) is not real.

      July 19, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • rufusclyde

      How did humanity survive the last 4 million years with no medicine to cure our diseases?

      July 19, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Buckee

      Regardless of the cause, there is NOTHING humans can do to alter global warming. Except for getting rid of 5 billion people.

      ClimateChangeoids go first, per Solomon, if you REALLY care about the planet.

      July 19, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ironman

      methane gas from frozen organic matter thawing!!!!! Comments should be dropped by all news outlets to hide the ignorance of society

      July 19, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hodgepodge

      Increases in solar activity, increases in CO2/CH4 due to various geological and biological process, changes in ocean circulation due to plate tectonics...

      So, which of these natural processes are occurring today? None, given that they tend to occur over the course of millenia, not decades.. So, if these processes are not affecting temperatures currently, what could possibly be doing so? Hmmm...

      July 19, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      It's simple–volcanic eruptions happened. If you weren't biased by the propaganda, you'd know that one volcanic eruption releases more atmosphere-toxic agents than mankind does in a decade

      July 19, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • JanetMermaid

      Sorry but you are an i d i o t. Study a few science journals and white papers - the speed and rate of increase is dramatically different than the millions of years it historically took to cool and warm. Don't get your science from Fox.

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

    the earth is alive, sending a message? drought here, flooding over there, some sort of over the edge weather happening somewhere every day. just think of all the tornadoes in the last 3 years, monster glaciers crashing into the arctic sea, birds migratory patterns all wack, global warming? if you click your heels together 3 times it will all go away. 'there is no such thing global warming, there is no such thing global warming, there is no such thing global warming...my the weather is fine today here in sunny southern californication!lol

    July 19, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Bev McMullan

    Of all the areas that global warming affects...the depletion of water is what scares me the most. As we all know water sustains life and if it is severely lacking then anything that is living will be directly affected and it won't be for the better!!! We really have to do something about this before it's too late. 😦

    July 19, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim Steele

      The water hasn't depleted or disappeared. It is just raining somewhere else!

      July 19, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Burbank

      The root cause of all of this is overpopulation world-wide, including our own country. Getting the population down which means less pollution is the solution. Nothing will truly get better until we handle this gorilla in the room and stop looking the other way.

      July 19, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Rascal Rabble

    you people not going to church on sundays and not keeping the sabbath day holy is the reason we are having this drought...but one thing im glad the univited carp is dead

    July 19, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
  8. JanetMermaid

    All you Republicans just keep telling yourself that there's no such thing as global warming/climate change. Your grandchildren will curse your graves for the planet you are leaving them.

    July 19, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • JanetMermaid

      But also remember - nature ALWAYS seeks a balance. We won't like how nature goes about doing this.

      July 19, 2012 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • jimmy

      Stop being so partisan. I am a republican that believes in global warming.

      July 19, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Tyler

    Mmmm! Got to get me sum of dat chickin and ham hocks afore all'n that dere waters is drunk up by my ńīģģēŕs! Mmm, get me some, gravy time!!

    July 19, 2012 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Thermion7

    regardless of your view on global warming or its causes ( the data will work that out)... this is major drought and the agricultural sector will suffer the most.

    July 19, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Report abuse |
  11. dowdotica

    7 billion people on the planet today! wow! 7 billion people and all the garbage, all the filth, all the pollution. drive a freeway and count the number of peeps driving solo. Me? yup i'm guilty but if i make one conscious effort once a day to try not to be such a gluttonous pig toward the environment then i know at least i tried to do one thing a day. Now what if i could 7 billion people to do it? maybe there is no such thing as global warming but does that give we the "borg" the right to squander and pilage mother nature? that old indian is rolling over in his grave right now....

    July 19, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thermion7

      in the next 5 years it's anticipated that there will be a billion more "middle-class" people in asia... who want and will be able to afford cars, and air conditioners and plastic toys.

      July 19, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Robert

    You can try to explain it scientifically all you want, but the bottom line is that God is judging America because of it's great wickedness, and this is just the beginning. Most will write this off as nonsense, but that is what the Egyptian Pharoah of old did for plague after plague, until his heart was hardened and both he and Egypt were destroyed.

    July 19, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Siara

      especially the red states, it seems....

      July 19, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cindy Blackburn

      religious fanatics...why are you here?? Go to church and get bit by rattlesnakes...

      July 19, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bilali

      Nice to see someone from Christian fantasy land checked in

      July 19, 2012 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • BillyD

      So I gues during the dustbowl, God must have been really ticked at the US back then, too? And what do you think about 9/11? Really ticked at the US and Bush administration then as well? God seems like a vengeful creature in your eyes. Sure you are not confusing Him with the devil? Glad I don't belong to your religion or know your god.

      July 19, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
  13. dowdotica

    7 billion people today, 12 billion tomorrow. Ever see the movie Solient GReen?

    July 19, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Vernon

    This drought is happening on Obama's watch. November can't get here soon enough.

    July 19, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • solex

      Let me get this straight: You are blaming the drought on Obama?

      It must be a bummer to be so completely and unchangeably STUPID

      July 19, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rascal Rabble

      yep, our president don't go to church

      July 19, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Dale

    The United States food supplies is in big trouble, because of this drought.

    Wall Street commodity speculators continues to export American cattle, hogs and poultry, corn and alfalfa produce, to Asia because their currency is stronger.

    “”Food crops are being manipulated”” less acreage being planted to increase price, Wall Street manipulation.

    Feed corn being made into ethanol Congress subsidies going into fat cat pockets.

    July 19, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thermion7

      Dale- I don't think you understand Agribusiness at all.... but you seem to get conspiracies.

      July 19, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
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