The worst drought in half a century has brought water levels in the Mississippi close to historic lows and could shut down all shipping in a matter of weeks — unless Barack Obama takes extraordinary measures.
Wired Science reports today, “It’s the second extreme event on the river in 18 months, after flooding in the spring of 2011 forced thousands to flee their homes. Without rain, water levels on the Mississippi are projected to reach historic lows this month, the national weather service said in its latest four-week forecast.
“’All the ingredients for us getting to an all-time record low are certainly in place,” said Mark Fuchs, a hydrologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in St. Louis. “I would be very surprised if we didn’t set a record this winter.’ The drought has already created a low-water choke point south of St. Louis, near the town of Thebes, where pinnacles of rock extend upwards from the river bottom, making passage treacherous.
“Shipping companies are hauling 15 barges at a time instead of a typical string of 25, because the bigger runs are too big for current operating conditions. Barges are being sent off with lighter loads, making for more traffic, with more delays and back-ups. Stretches of the river are now reduced to one-way traffic. A long cold spell could make navigation even trickier: shallow, slow-moving water is more likely to get clogged up with ice. Current projections suggest water levels could drop too low to send barges through Thebes before the new year — unless there is heavy rainfall.”
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