MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - May 2011 broke records for flooding. The Mid-South could set new records in 2012, but for low river levels instead. The Mississippi River level is quickly dropping due to drought conditions in the Mid-South and Ohio Valley.
Last May, tributaries like the Wolf River swelled with flood water. Many parking lots and businesses were flooded near Humphreys Boulevard in East Memphis. This year, backwater channels are empty with weeds growing in them.
“What a difference a year makes. This year we are in a totally different situation, just opposite ends of the spectrum. In some form or fashion, it's just as bad,” said Steve Barry, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Mississippi River is more than 50 feet lower than what it was in May 2011. The height of the river is based on a base flood gauge of zero. It’s a reference point to monitor river level fluctuations. Zero is as low at the river level can go before it starts impacting river travel. Currently, the Mississippi River at Memphis is five feet below that base level.
David Berretta, Chief of Hydrology with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, says,” Here in Memphis, we usually don't have navigation problems until we get into the minus 7 range. We anticipate we will be in those levels by the end of July.”
Recreational boating should not be impacted by the low water. Commercial barges are a different story. Barges have begun the process to lighten loads and they have restrictions on the size of their tows along the river.
“We could have some trouble getting commercial vehicles in and out at the harbors,” says Barry.
How does this affect the Mid-South? Local farmers will feel the pain in the fall when the Mississippi River is expected to hit record lows. It is possible that farmers will not be able to transport produce as quickly as in the past if barges can’t get to the harbor.
The Mississippi River is expected to hit record lows by the fall. In the late 80’s, the Mississippi River measured ten feet below the base level.