Mississippi Levels Way Up, Barges At Full Load
By WKyStar Staff
CAIRO, IL - Rapid snowmelt upstream, and relief from drought conditions have helped to bring the upper Mississippi River from dangerously low levels to minor flooding in a matter of days.
At Chester, Illinois on March 2nd, the river level was a scant six feet, but by Wednesday afternoon it had swelled more than 21 feet deeper to flood stage at 27.69 feet. St. Louis is back over 21 feet after negative hydrograph readings through the winter were wiped out by the melting of consecutive 10-inch snows across the Missouri River basin.
The bulge of snowmelt runoff has made its way this weekend to the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers at Cairo, where a flood warning is in effect until Tuesday for Alexander and Pulaski counties in Illinois, as well as Ballard, Carlisle, Hickman and Fulton in Kentucky.
This is a stark difference from the past winter, when barges had to travel half-empty to avoid running aground between Cape Girardeau and St. Louis. The river hit a historic low point on New Years Day, and barges had to take turns getting through suddenly-narrow passages. Underwater rock formations that were usually well below the hulls of towboats had to be excavated, and the threat of a complete shutdown of river traffic could have crippled commercial transport of commodities throughout the Midwest.
For most of the Midwest, 2012 was one of the hottest and driest summers ever. Western Kentucky and southern Illinois made up the bullseye of a large region of "exceptional" drought, the most severe level on the National Drought Monitor. Now our area has returned to normal moisture conditions, and timely rains have gone a long way toward replenishing many ponds and streams.
However, barge company officials are wary about the future. They say it will take still more sustained rain and snow through the year to avoid a repeat of the recent drastic situation.