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. case

    IIt rains in the NW all the time – yay

    July 19, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
  2. fishpaw23

    This isn't a God thing. Sorry, but the good church goin' folk are being hurt by this just as much as the heathens. There's no "plan". The Universe is an imperfect place. Just be glad we have the ingenuity to hold it at bay.

    July 19, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • lady jade

      I just wanted to say I like your comment ūüôā

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

      go to cherch...ch'all hear mie!

      July 19, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Siara

    What's happening out west is simply ghastly.

    July 19, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Really?!

    Come on everybody, we need to put a big hole in the Ozone to let all the extra heat!!! ;p

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

    re "God is judging America": seems like God is especially judging the Bible belt. Leave God out of it folks. It's a drought.

    July 19, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Anony-moose

    2 Chronicles 7:13-14

    July 19, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
  7. bruce rubin

    I live in Florida,your all confused,there is no global warming!! no such thing!! I will be right back, my pizza is starting to burn, it is out on my backporch cooking!!

    July 19, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
  8. alumette

    yeah...no worry about floods right now. We are drying up. Lakes are receding....hate that.

    July 19, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
  9. allah

    Religion, nore global warming have anything to do with this. Its just weather. Although humans may have an effect on this due to the fact we've been moving materials, and dirt around en masse around the globe. We've probably knocked the earth off its usual balance, hence the extremes in various parts of the world. It cannot be fixed by these global warming nuts. Just have to ride out the storm and see what happens. Hopefully 2-4 billion people will parish and problem solved. Until than, Rock on!

    July 19, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • James Scott

      Maybe you will be among them.

      July 19, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Remmett70

    I'm doing my part. I keep peeing in the WI river and let that flow down into the Mississippi. Have a good swim.

    July 19, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
  11. ricciap

    On July 10, 2012, hundreds of scientists from 48 countries released their annual State of the Climate report, which, for the first time in its history, shows that 2011 weather extremes are connected to MAN-MADE global warming. The scientists state that all greenhouse gases are on the rise, at the largest and highest levels they’ve seen since they’ve been keeping records. They state that they are NOT able to detect natural rises in greenhouse gases, that evidence shows that the rises are due to MAN-MADE increases in carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. And they state that global warming is accelerating.

    July 19, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Tom Jefferson

    The bottom of the Mississippi river is some of the most polluted soil in the US. It was decided that trying to clean it up would wash too much toxic waste into the gulf. Maybe this is a good time to clean some of it up.

    July 19, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
  13. alumette

    well, looks like my post vanished in the ether......what's the matter boys ? can't handle the possible reality ? get a grip.

    July 19, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Thermion7

    MARK – your assertion that volcanoes produce more greenhouse gasses than humans are absolutely wrong. nobody believes that.

    July 19, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  15. bad2worse

    This is fantastic news///////////// next time the river gets heavy rain it will take longer to flood.

    July 19, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
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