Adam Thomas begins to harvest soybeans on his farm in the US state of Illinois as the morning dew burns. This year, the dry weather accelerated the work, allowing him to start early. His problem is getting soy bean to the market.
Approximately 60 percent of the Midwestern and northern Great Plains states are located within drought. Nearly the entire stretch of the Mississippi River — from Minnesota to its mouth in Louisiana — has experienced below-average rainfall over the past two months.
As a result, water levels in the river have dropped to near-record lows, disrupting ship and barge traffic, which is crucial for the transport of recently harvested agricultural commodities such as soybeans and corn for export.
Although scientists say climate change This latest drought to affect the central US is more likely to be a short-term weather phenomenon, a weather expert says.
The lack of rain has severely affected commercial activity. The river transfers more than half of all U.S. grain exports, but drought reduced the flow of goods by about 45 percent, according to industry estimates cited by the federal government. The price of rail freight, an alternative to barge shipping, also increased.
“It basically just means lower incomes,” said Mike Doherty, a senior economist with the Illinois Farm Bureau.
Thomas farm at the confluence of Ohio and Mississippi rivers and do not have enough grain reserves to wait for high transportation costs. “I had to lower the price,” he said.
Climate change In general, conditions are wetter in the Upper Mississippi, but in recent months lower water levels have exposed parts that are normally inaccessible.
Last weekend, thousands of visitors walked across an often submerged riverbed to Tower Rock, a jutting formation about 160 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of St Louis. This is the first time since 2012, people can do the hike and stay dry. On the border of Tennessee and Missouri, where the river is 0.8 km (half a mile) wide, snake-tracking four-wheelers traverse wide swaths of the riverbed.
In a much-needed break from the dry weather, the area finally received some rain this week. “It looks like it’s helping to alleviate the pain of low water, but it’s not going to alleviate it completely,” said Kai Roth of the Lower Mississippi River Prediction Center. said, adding that the river needs multiple rounds of “soaking, good. rain”.
The barge runs the risk of bottoming out and getting stuck in the mud. This month, the US Coast Guard said there have been at least eight such landings.
Some barges bottomed but were not stuck. Others need rescue companies to help them. Barges are warned to be light to prevent them from sinking too deep in the water, but that means they can carry less cargo.
To make sure ships can navigate safely, federal officials meet regularly, review river depths, and speak with the shipping industry to determine local closures and traffic restrictions. When a section of road is temporarily closed, hundreds of barges may be waiting in line.
“It’s very dynamic: Things are constantly changing,” said Eric Carrero, Coast Guard Director for Western Rivers and Waterways. “Every day, when we survey, we find areas that are shallow and they need to be dredged.”
After an enclosed area is dredged, officials mark a safe channel and barges can once again pass through.
According to Mike Steenhoek, chief executive officer of the Soy Transport Alliance, in some places, warehouses at barge terminals are filling up, preventing much cargo from entering. He said the flow of grain into a compromised river transport system is like “gluing a garden hose to a fire hydrant”. High cost for farmers He added.
For tourists, much of the river is still accessible.
Charles Robertson, president and CEO of American Cruise Lines, said: “Large cruise lines resist spring currents and shallow drafts that keep ships moving during drought,” said Charles Robertson, president and CEO of American Cruise Lines, which operates five cruise ships that can carry 150 to 190 passengers each.
However, nighttime operations were limited to help the ships avoid new obstacles that the drought had caused. And some landing areas are inaccessible because of low water – rivers are depleted along the edges.
In Vicksburg, Mississippi, a cruise ship could not reach a ramp that would normally carry many passengers, so the city, with the help of the townspeople, laid out gravel and plywood to create a makeshift walkway. For some, it adds to the adventure.
“They’re going through the headlines that most of the rest of the country is reading,” said Robertson.
Drought is a persistent problem in California, has just recorded its driest period in three years on record, a situation that has strained water supplies and increased the risk of wildfires. Climate change is raising temperatures and making droughts more common and worse.
“Dry areas will continue to get drier, and regions will continue to get drier,” said Jen Brady, data analyst at Climate Central, a nonprofit group of scientists and researchers reporting on climate change. Wetter areas will continue to get wetter.
However, Brad Pugh, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said that the current drought in the Midwest is likely “due to short-term weather patterns” and he will don’t link it to climate change.
In the Midwest, climate change is increasing the intensity of some storm. The severity of flooding on the upper Mississippi River is increasing faster than in any other region in the country, according to NOAA.
Some worry that fertilizers and manure have accumulated on farms and could quickly be washed away in a heavy rain, reducing oxygen levels in rivers and streams and threatening aquatic life.
In rare cases, communities are turning to distant alternative sources of drinking water Mississippi. Drought is also threatening to dry up drinking water wells in Iowa and Nebraska, NOAA said.
It is unclear how long the drought will last. In the near-term, rain is likely, but NOAA notes that in November, below-average rainfall is more likely in central states like Missouri, which will prolong transportation problems. move on the river.
In some northern states, including Michigan, winter can bring more humidity, but less rain than in southern states.
“It takes a lot of rain for the river to rise,” says Roth.