Drought in the lower Mississippi Valley sees rain
- During the summer, an exceptional drought developed and spread across parts of the South.
- Drought also spread across the upper Midwest.
- This has left areas of the Mississippi River at extremely low levels.
- Saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico creeps north into parts of Louisiana.
- Additional rain is expected this week, but not enough to raise river levels significantly.
Rain inundated parts of the Mississippi River Valley struggling with drought and low water on Monday, but not enough to turn around a summer that has been exceptionally dry for some.
Mississippi River levels are near historic lows. For the second year in a row, stretches of the Mississippi River fell to record lows near the confluence of the Ohio River into the Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi.
One important reason is that this shallow stretch of river will not accommodate the usual volume of barge traffic. According to the Associated Press, nearly 60% of the nation’s grain exports are transported by barge down the Mississippi River. Low levels make it more expensive to either float fewer light barges or offload cargo to semi-trucks.
The Gulf’s salty water moves upriver. Another serious impact of low water levels is a wedge of saltwater spilling from the Mississippi River from the Gulf of Mexico into parts of Louisiana, as the video at the top of this article shows.
This happens because the dredged portion of the river south of Natchez, Mississippi, is below sea level. When a drought-stricken river doesn’t flow enough, salty Gulf water can creep upriver along the river bed.
Saltwater can pose a threat to drinking water supplies, agriculture and other infrastructure. In a press conference, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said he may request a state of emergency declaration to utilize more resources to address this problem.
Drought covers much of the Mississippi River Basin. During the summer, drought developed rapidly and worsened across much of the Mississippi Valley, from Minnesota and Wisconsin to Louisiana and Mississippi. It also extends over major tributaries including the Missouri, Arkansas, and Red Rivers.
They are especially exceptional from Texas to Mississippi. Louisiana just experienced its hottest summer on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The last three months ending Saturday were the driest June 24-Sept. 23 period on record in both Lake Charles and New Orleans, according to the Southeast Regional Climate Center.
There is some additional rain in the forecast. Parts of the lower Mississippi Valley saw rain on Monday.
Intermittent thunderstorms are possible in the lower Mississippi Valley on Tuesday and in southeastern Louisiana on Wednesday and Thursday.
While some heavy rain is possible locally, most of these areas will likely receive less than an inch of rain.
Although this rain will be welcome, it won’t raise the Mississippi River much at all.
There is some hope for the future. A seasonal outlook released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) last week expects much of the drought in the Mississippi Valley to improve or disappear by the end of the year.
They expect better odds for more rain than average from October to December across much of the South, including the lower Mississippi Valley.
This is due in part to increasingly strong El Niño events, which typically turbo-charge the southern branch, or subtropical jet stream, bringing wetter weather in the fall and winter to the south.
However, another important factor is the remainder of the hurricane season.
Even just a single slow-moving tropical depression or tropical storm can dump enough rain to soak dry land and cause the levels of the Mississippi River and its tributaries to rise. Of course, the same scenario could result in heavy rain falling simultaneously, leading to flash floods.
Jonathan Erdmann is a senior meteorologist at Weather.com and has been covering national and international weather since 1996. His lifelong love of meteorology began with a near-encounter with a tornado as a child in Wisconsin. He studied physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, then completed a master’s degree working with dual polarization radar and lightning data at Colorado State University. Extreme and strange weather are his favorite subjects. Contact him on x/twitter, Facebook And the threads.
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