The Mississippi is just the latest to fall victim to one of the worst droughts the U.S. has experienced in half a century. Water levels in the river have reportedly dropped to historic lows and could shut down all shipping routes in a matter of weeks.
The Guardian reports that the drought has already created a low-water choke point south of St Louis, near the town of Thebes. The newspaper notes that rocks are protruding dangerously upwards from the river bottom making passage treacherous. Meanwhile, shipping companies are reportedly hauling 15 barges at a time instead of a typical string of 25.
Observers say shutting down the Mississippi would have severe economic consequences for the country. The Guardian reports that $7bn in vital commodities typically moves on the river at this time of year – including grain, coal, heating oil, and cement.
The Mississippi is the lead body of water within the largest river system in North America. Flowing entirely in the United States, it rises in northern Minnesota and flows southwards for more than 4,000 kms to the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico.
A shipping freeze along this essential river would particularly affect vast swaths of the U.S. mid-west, which is already reeling from the effects of long-term drought.
According to a report issued by state and federal climatology experts this week, drought continues to expand through several key farming states across the country.