Before-and-after photos show how the Mississippi River has dropped dramatically, choking a crucial shipping corridor

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people walk on a brown riverbank with a barge in the distance in the water
Barges make their way down the Mississippi River, where the water levels have reached record lows in Memphis, Tennessee, on October 23, 2022.

  • The Mississippi River is at a historic low, exposing new land that used to be covered by water.
  • Satellite images show how thin the river has become in some areas, and how parched the land is.
  • Other photos show a former island that people can now walk to on the dry riverbed.

The Mississippi River has fallen to historic lows, and the effects are visible from space.

A summer of heat waves baked the central US, followed by a flash drought this fall in the Ohio and Missouri river valleys, which drain into the Mississippi. With no rainfall to make up the deficit, the great river dropped to record lows in some places.

Satellite images, and other pictures from before and after this drop in water levels, show how dramatic the difference is. In the below pictures, it’s clear that more dry earth is exposed in October 2022, on the right, than at the same time last year. Highlighting the drought, some areas of land that were green in 2021 are brown in 2022.

side by side satellite images show mississippi river in october 2021 and october 2022 with much more dry earth
Satellite images from October 2021, left, and October 2022, right, show how low the Mississippi River is this year, with more bare earth exposed.

Barges got stuck in the shallow waters in early October, prompting the Coast Guard to impose new weight limits and the US Army Corps of Engineers to go on a dredging spree. Commercial traffic on the river — paddleboats full of tourists and barges carrying most of the Midwest’s corn, soybeans, fertilizer, coal, and oil — slowed to a crawl.

The water levels dropped so low that they exposed enough land to walk to Tower Rock, a popular island that’s normally accessible only by boat.

big rock formation island topped with trees sits in mississippi river
Tower Rock, in the Mississippi River, when the water levels are normal.

People have been walking out to the island, which is in Perry County, Missouri.

man sits on rock watches people walk across exposed river bottom to big rock island in the mississippi river
Randy Statler sits on a rock to watch people walk to Tower Rock, an attraction normally surrounded by the Mississippi River and only accessible by boat, in Perry County, Missouri, on October 19, 2022.

Meteorologists at AccuWeather expect the river will stay this low until January at the earliest. The forecast calls for small amounts of rain, which will likely be enough to prevent the waters from dropping lower, but not enough to replenish the river.

“What they may do, these rain events, is just kind of hold back from things getting any worse than they are right now,” Paul Pastelok, a meteorologist at AccuWeather, told Insider.

“As far as improvement goes, we’re going to need the Ohio River and the mid- and lower-Mississippi River region to be hit with maybe twice as much, if not three times as much, as their normal precipitation they get from now to January. So it’s going to be hard to completely cure the problem,” he said.

Through December, AccuWeather estimates the economic losses at $20 billion. That’s because 92% of US agricultural exports are produced in the Mississippi River basin, to be exported through the Gulf of Mexico.

Read the original article on Business Insider
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