Photos and satellite imagery from the central U.S. show how the region’s worst drought in at least a decade pushed the Mississippi River and its tributaries to record lows this month.
Across the basin, dozens of water level gauges have fallen below their low-water thresholds. Water levels in the Mississippi River are at record lows this week from Illinois to Louisiana, and many of those gauges will continue to drop as forecasts remain stubbornly dry.
Drone video of the Mississippi near Memphis shows how far the mighty river has shrunk from its banks.
Earlier this week, the river dropped to minus 10.75 feet, the lowest level on record in Memphis, according to the National Weather Service.
Drought is spreading again in the Midwest and South this week, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Half of the continental U.S. is in moderate or severe drought conditions — the third-highest reading so far this year and the highest since March.
The monitoring report said more than 134 million people were affected by the drought, the highest percentage of the population since 2016.
The worst deterioration was in the Midwest, where the drought covered an increase of about 60,000 square miles, an area the size of Georgia.
“Topsoil moisture continues to dry out in parts of the Ohio Valley and Corn Belt,” Drought Tracker reported Thursday, adding that “deep soil moisture remains very low in much of the Mississippi Valley.”
The dry conditions have had a severe impact not only on the Mississippi River, but also on the rivers that flow into it.
Before and after satellite images from the National Weather Service show how the river receded from its banks between July 14 and October 17.
Mississippi River in Kentucky Bay, Missouri and New Madrid:
Ohio River Landing in Mound City, Illinois:
In Nebraska, aerial photos show that the Platte River, which flows through the state and into the Mississippi, is almost completely dry in some places. The river near Kearney, Nebraska, has disappeared, leaving only dry sand where the water usually flows.
According to the National Weather Service, a few inches of rain is likely in the central U.S. next week, which could bring some relief, especially for tributaries of the Mississippi River.
But the long-term outlook is drier than average. NOAA’s seasonal drought outlook calls for drought in the region to continue through January.
CNN previously reported that the river’s low water levels make it possible to walk to Tower Rock, an island in the middle of the Mississippi River south of St. Louis. St. Louis is usually only accessible by boat.
Low water levels have also spread saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico along the Mississippi River, and Army troops are now building a 1,500-foot-wide underwater levee to keep the salt from entering Louisiana’s drinking water.
In addition, officials said, just as record-low water levels in Lake Mead revealed several human remains, a woman walking along the banks of the Mississippi River over the weekend found what turned out to be human bones. The remains include a mandible, ribs and some unidentified bone fragments, Chief Medical Examiner Scotty Meredith of Cohooma County, Mississippi, told CNN.
The Tennessee Valley Authority announced this week that it will release more water from two dams to help replenish the Mississippi River. In Cairo, Illinois, the Mississippi River “is approaching its lowest river level since 1901,” the agency noted on its Facebook page.
“To help stabilize commercial sailing conditions on the lower Ohio and lower Mississippi rivers, we are arranging special releases from the Kentucky Dam on the Tennessee River and the Buckley Dam on the Cumberland River to help lower river water levels,” the agency wrote. Impact.”
Travis Brickey, a TVA spokesman, told CNN that water from dams is typically released on a fluctuating basis because they operate in a “build-stop-build-stop” cycle.
But for the foreseeable future, the dam will continue to release water to help offset the impact of the ongoing drought on water levels.
CNN previously reported that the low water levels of the Mississippi River come at a critical time of year to transport crops from the country’s heartland.
The Army Corps of Engineers has been dredging parts of the river to keep traffic flowing, albeit at a much slower pace. This month, hundreds of barges and boats have lined up to cross the treacherous low river after everything has been emptied.