The Mississippi River has dropped to record lows due to a severe drought
Photos and satellite images from the central United States show how the region’s worst drought in at least a decade caused the Mississippi River and its tributaries to fall to record lows this month.
Across the river basin, dozens of gauges have fallen below their low water mark. The Mississippi River was at historic lows from Illinois to Louisiana this week, and many of these gauges will continue to see falling water levels as forecasts remain stubbornly dry.
Drone video of the Mississippi River near Memphis shows how the mighty river has contracted away from its banks.
The river fell to minus 10.75 feet earlier this week, according to National Weather Service data, which was the lowest level on record in Memphis.
Drought extended further this week in the Midwest and South, according to the US Drought Monitor. Half of the contiguous United States is covered in moderate or worse drought conditions — the third-highest reading of the year so far and the highest since March.
More than 134 million people are affected by the drought, the Monitor reports, which is the highest population percentage since 2016.
The Midwest saw the worst deterioration, with the area covered by the drought increasing by about 60,000 square miles, which is the size of Georgia.
« Topsoil moisture continues to dry out in parts of the Ohio Valley and Corn Belt, » the Drought Tracker reported Thursday, adding that « deeper soil moisture remains very low. also in much of the Mississippi Valley ».
The dry conditions took their toll not only on the Mississippi, but also on the rivers that flow into it.
Before and after satellite images from the National Weather Service show how the rivers retreated from their banks between July 14 and October 17.
The Mississippi River at Kentucky Bend and New Madrid, Missouri:
The Ohio River at Mound City Landing, Illinois:
In Nebraska, aerial photos show the Platte River, which runs through the state and empties into the Mississippi, has almost completely dried up in some places. The river has disappeared near Kearney, Nebraska, and dry sand is all that remains where the water usually flows.
According to the National Weather Service, several inches of rain are possible over the next week in the central United States, which could bring some relief, especially for tributaries of the Mississippi River.
But the long-term outlook is drier than average. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Seasonal Drought Outlook projects that the region’s drought will persist through January.
Low river levels allowed people to walk to Tower Rock, CNN previously reported — an island in the middle of the Mississippi River south of St. Louis that’s usually only accessible by boat.
The low levels also allow salt water from the Gulf of Mexico to flow up the Mississippi, and the Army Corps is building a 1,500-foot-wide underwater levee to keep salt out of drinking water by Louisiana.
Additionally — just as record high water levels at Lake Mead revealed multiple sets of human remains — a woman walking along the banks of the Mississippi River over the weekend discovered bones that turned out to be human, they said. officials. The remains include an unidentified lower jaw, ribs and pieces of bone, Chief Medical Examiner Scotty Meredith told CNN.
The Tennessee Valley Authority announced this week that it will release more water from two dams to help top up water levels in the Mississippi River. In Cairo, Illinois, Mississippi is « nearing its lowest level since 1901, » the agency noted on its Facebook page.
“To help stabilize commercial boating conditions on the lower Ohio and Mississippi rivers, we are planning special water releases from Kentucky Dam on the Tennessee River and Barkley Dam on the Cumberland River to help impacts on the low level of the river, » the agency wrote.
TVA spokesman Travis Brickey told CNN that water from dams is typically released in a fluctuating fashion because they operate on a « build-stop-build-stop » cycle.
But for the foreseeable future, the dams are releasing a steady flow of water to help counter the impact of the ongoing drought on water levels.
The Mississippi’s low water levels come at a crucial time of year for transporting crops from the heartland, CNN previously reported.
The Army Corps of Engineers dredged portions of the river to keep traffic flowing, although at a much slower pace. Hundreds of barges and ships have lined up this month, waiting for the green light to pass through the treacherously low river.