The prolonged extreme to exceptional drought across the Plains has had major impacts along the Missouri River. Falling water levels in the river and its reservoirs have forced the Army Corps of Engineers to reduce its flow, as levels have fallen below federal regulations. Impacts from this decision are expected to be felt not only along the Missouri River, but more importantly, along the Mississippi River and resulting barge and shipment operations.
"Since the Missouri River is a major tributary of the Mississippi River, lessening the water flow could in turn threaten barge traffic along the Mississippi should water levels fall too low for transport," says Kyle Tapley, senior agricultural meteorologist for MDA Weather Services. The current water level of the Mississippi River at St. Louis, Mo. is -1.01 ft., more than 31 ft. below flood stage. This reading already falls within the 20 lowest all-time water levels on record.
Little relief is in store for this region as forecasters predict the next two weeks to remain drier than average. "With little precipitation expected across the central U.S. over the next two weeks, water levels will continue to drop along the Mississippi River, nearing historic lows," says Tapley.
In fact, NOAA is currently forecasting the Mississippi River at St. Louis to reach a water level of -5.10 ft. on Dec. 11, placing it at the fifth lowest water level on record, and less than 1 ft. away from the all-time record set back in 1940. The dropping water level proves critical for barge operations and will continue to be monitored closely in the coming days.
"The Mississippi River at St. Louis is typically shut down to barge traffic when the water drops below -5.00 ft., so there is a very real threat of significant disruptions in the shipment of grain in the U.S." adds Tapley.