First Alert Weather In-Depth: The mighty Mississippi, not so mighty

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Years ago I remember going down to Louisiana, along the Mississippi River, and seeing one of those big paddlewheel boats. Since then the water level has dropped significantly and the paddles do not a have a lot of water to push around. 

Also a concern are the barges working along the river. By some estimates, one of these big barges can easily cover the equivalent of 58 tractor trailer trucks. Some folks call the Mississippi River the “highway for commodities” for the in the United States. Crops like corn and soybean are attempting to ship down the river, but because of these very low water levels these commodities are not reaching the market.

Why is this happening? The primary reason has been the very dry weather. This is illustrated by the drought-like conditions that the middle of the county has experienced for almost two years. And it is that cumulative impact that is magnified when looking at the major rivers that flow into the Mississippi. This includes the Tennessee River, Ohio River, Missouri River and Arkansas River. These feeder rivers are also running very low and that is a big problem for the Mississippi. Right now there are record low levels for the water and what was 30 feet of depth a few years ago is now down to only 5 feet in spots. As a result, barge traffic has slowed or has completely come to a stop.

We know the water levels are going to go rise again, but it is more than likely going to take all of the fall season and probably a good portion of the winter season to recovery to a normal level.