Mississippi River Is Drying Up As Massive Drought Continues

The Mississippi river is drying up and some shipping companies are worried that the drought of 1988 may be repeated, a time when the river dried up so much that barge traffic came to a standstill. In 1988 the shipping industry lost $1 billion, a number that would be far higher in 2012 and could be reached in as little as three days.

Almost all of the rivers 2,500 miles are experiencing some type of low water level. Just outside of Memphis the river is 13 feet below normal depth while the National Weather Service says Vicksburg, Mississippi is 20 feet below normal levels. Overall the Mississippi is 13 feet below normal averages for this time of year.

The drying up river is forcing barge, tugboat and towboat operators to navigate narrower and more shallow spots in the river, slowing their speeds as they pass dangerously close to one another. In some parts of the Mississippi the river is so narrow that one-way traffic is being utilized.

Because of the shallow water levels shippers have been forced to load less cargo which has left them with lower profit margins over fears that they would run into the rivers floor with heavier freight.

Industry analysts predict that closing down the Mississippi will cause losses up to $300 million per day and then grow exponentially over subsequent shutdown days. An idle tugboat alone costs nearly $10,000 to operate daily.


Closing the Mississippi will affect people all over the country, barges, tugboats and towboats ship petroleum, grain, fertilizer, sand, gravel, steel and other items that will raise in price if their means of transportation are severed for much of the United States.

According to Time, “About 60% of the country’s grain exports and one-fifth of its coal is transported along the nation’s inland waterway system.”

The National Weather Service continues to monitor conditions all along the Mississippi’s 2,500 miles of waterway.