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What a difference a few seasons make.
January 11, 2013 11:26 PM   Subscribe

Less than 20 months after the historic Spring 2011 (previously on MeFi) floods, the Mississippi River may be at similarly historic low levels and flow. Shipping commerce and even drinking water for towns and cities dependent on the Mississippi are under severe threat.

At Memphis,TN the river will soon be nearly 40 feet below its Spring 2011 flood crest, and more than 28 feet below normal flood stage. So far in 2013, Mississippi River Basin snow pack is below seasonal normal even as far west as Colorado, and in no way makes up for the summer 2012 rainfall shortage. Reservoir releases from Upper Missouri River storage lakes and other northern Mississippi River feeders, to raise water level in the Mississippi, have become politically controversial in light of continuing drought conditions. While the next week's forecast (pdf) for the upper U.S. Midwest predicts some snow, dry conditions continue for much of the central U.S. At present, according to NOAA, there seem to be Equal Chances for Above Normal, Normal, and Below Normal in the mid-Central United States in late Spring 2013.

Good luck to all who depend on Mississippi watershed rivers and lakes, one or another, at whatever remove, in the coming months.
posted by paulsc (10 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
I guess on the plus side, once climate change starts taking money from the 1% and their companies, we might actually see some call to do something about...too little, too late, of course.
posted by maxwelton at 12:49 AM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nice to have you back at mefi, Paul.
posted by smoke at 1:59 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Louisiana is almost back to normal, but the Gulf has been providing a lot of water, feeding snowfall up to the Ohio River Valley & east.
posted by dragonsi55 at 3:08 AM on January 12, 2013


The snowpack that feeds the Colorado has been below normal for years now, and water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead have been getting lower and lower. The Colorado River provides water to millions of people, and it's basically the reason a lot of the desert west is livable. We aren't really far from the point where there isn't enough water to release from Powell or Mead - when that happens there's going to be a pretty epic sh*tstorm.

As many people as the Colorado serves, the Mississippi serves several times as many and its use for shipping (the Colorado is pretty well useless for that with all the dams) is a vital part of the economy along the river. If it starts going down the same path of low levels, it's not going to be a good thing. Water policy has always been an extremely contentious subject, but I have a feeling a lot of people are going to suddenly become very interested about it.
posted by azpenguin at 3:35 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


You reap what you sow.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:54 AM on January 12, 2013


Climate Change Already Affecting US
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:30 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I guess that brilliant idea to take water from the Missouri to feed it to people in the Southwest is gonna get tripped up?
posted by Atreides at 7:31 AM on January 12, 2013


And yet there are still people who will say, "There's absolutely nothing wrong with the atmosphere." Jesus wept.
posted by ob1quixote at 8:54 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Remember, you need to look at the Mississippi as really four different watersheds -- the Upper Mississippi, the Missouri, the Ohio and then the combined flow downstream.

The Upper Mississipi starts just north of St. Louis, MO, at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, with the Illinois river also entering just a couple of miles upstream. The Upper Mississippi is dammed to maintain river levels for barge traffic, with 26 lock and dams. Barge tows are limited to 15 barges. Once the Illinois and Missouri merge in and get past the Chain of Rocks, the river is free flowing. The Missouri and Illinois entering basically double the volume of water in the river

This is the Middle Mississippi. It ends at Cario, IL, where the Ohio River joins and triples the volume of water. From there, it's the Lower Mississippi, a giant river flowing over half a million cubic feet of water a second.

It is perfectly possible to have massive floods in one part of the river and low water in another part. The 2011 Lower Mississippi floods were driven by the Ohio, where the 2003 Upper Mississippi were driven by the Upper Mississippi, and the Missouri. Once they reached Cario, though, the very low water at the time in the Ohio basically erased the flood, and downstream had below normal water levels while upstream was facing record flooding.

Right now, the Upper Miss, Missouri and Illinois rivers are all very low. But the Ohio isn't -- it's at 22' above datum, rising rapidly -- they're predicting 30 feet by next week. Flood stage is at 40 feet above datum.

So, while the Upper Miss, Middle Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers are in bad shape, the Ohio and Lower Mississippi are fine. The Ohio is actually high for this time of year, the lower Miss is just about where it should be, and climbing. Historically, the river is lowest in Winter, where precipitation is limited and often captured in the form of snow, to be released with the Spring rain and thaw.
posted by eriko at 10:52 AM on January 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Looks like the Mississippi will stay open after all.
posted by asperity at 11:08 AM on January 18, 2013


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