Mississippi River levels ‘wobble’ as experts hope for more rainfall
Published 4:57 pm Thursday, November 30, 2023
The Mississippi River is expected to have a short rise and then fall again during December, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service Office in Jackson said.
“We’ve started getting those little (level) wobbles in the river up in Cairo,” Weather Service hydrologist Marty Pope said. “It was like at 12.8 (feet) yesterday and now the river’s already fallen to 10.5 so we had a good fall in the last 24 hours up there, and that’s probably related to the way they’re operating the locks and dams sometimes.”
He said the Mississippi River at Vicksburg will see a rise of 4.3 to 4.5 feet, probably peaking Friday and then falling. On Thursday, the Mississippi was at 4 feet and forecast to reach 4.6 feet Saturday before starting to fall — a trend that is supposed to continue through the month, with the river level dropping as much as a foot by Christmas.
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“You know, we really should start getting some rain,” Pope said.
Pope said one experimental model projects 16 days of rainfall in the Mississippi and Ohio valleys. If the upper regions can get significant rain, he said that will cause a corresponding rise in the level of the Mississippi at Vicksburg.
“We’re going to see this rise, (then) it’s going to drop. But the hopes are that some rainfall events in the next 16 days could help us recover some of that loss that we could see (in the river),” he said.
And the low river continues to create problems for towboat companies using the river to move products.
“It’s not looking good,” said Roger Harris, vice president of operations for Magnolia Marine Transport Corp., which handles petroleum products. “There are a few things working against us up north that look like they’re going to extend this route even further. It’s not really good news on the horizon for us river operators.”
He said the situation has forced the company to reduce loads by 20 percent “and that’s all over the country, too.”
He said the lower Mississippi River from Cairo south seems at this point to be the area of the river most affected by the drought.
“We haven’t had any rain in the Ohio Valley,” Harris said. “The Ohio River Valley is what sustains us on the lower Mississippi. So even if we’re getting local rainfall, it’s not going to help the river one bit.
“Anything below Memphis (Tennessee) is really not going to help the Mississippi River. It’s going to take rain in the Ohio Valley to pick us back up,” he said.
He said the lack of rainfall combined with the lack of flow from the Missouri River north of St. Louis increases the low water problem.
But Harris is confident the higher river levels will return.
“We know we’re going to get our range; we’re going to get 80 inches of rain every year. It may come in three months and may come in three days,” he said.
“They come up with a year period. It’s going to eventually start raining again and when it does, keep your eye on the Ohio Valley and whatever rainfall they get is what we’ll get a couple of weeks later down in Vicksburg.”
Harris said the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers has been working to dredge the channels and the Port of Vicksburg to keep them open.
“They’re trying, they’ve got dredges in places working on bottlenecks and including the Vicksburg Harbor,” he said. “They did an excellent job in the Vicksburg Harbor six or eight weeks ago. They spent several weeks in here dredging the Vicksburg Harbor and without that work, without that dredging work, we would be really cut back trying to get into Vicksburg.
“Thanks to them we’re able to continue to run decent loads into Vicksburg, fairly heavy loads into Vicksburg and they’re doing the same thing on the Mississippi River. We really appreciate their efforts there to keep the river going.”
Austin Golding, president of Golding Barge Lines, which also moves petroleum products on the river, believes the low water problems may soon be ending.
Golding said a report on the river shows “there’s a ton of water getting in the system right now so I think we’re going be in pretty good shape after this next dip. It is supposed to drop out four or five feet but I think the forecast tomorrow morning will be breaking news.
“I think it’s going to signal the beginning of the end of it, this the system we’ve got coming in there now.”
He said levels on the Mississippi at Memphis were at -4.5 feet Thursday morning and are predicted to be at -7 by Dec. 9.
“It’s scheduled on by the 9th of December to begin going to -7 but it was supposed to get to -9 by the 7th,” Golding said. “So, they’ve already added 2 feet to the gauge in Memphis on the seventh and we get water out of the Arkansas (River) before it gets to Vicksburg so we’re, we’re going to be in good shape.
“Our operations have continued and I think we’re looking at a slight dip in the next (river forecast); I’d say before Christmas but I’d also say by Christmas, New Year’s, we’re going be headed towards high water season.”