Low water levels in the lower Mississippi River will likely continue through at least January despite the forecast for above-normal precipitation across the southern United States this winter. This statement came from the weather forecast agency of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), quoted by Reuters, Monday, October 23 2023.
Severe to extreme drought
The impact of the lower Mississippi River valley is expect to improve this winter as the El Niño weather pattern brings better rainfall to the region, NOAA said in its US winter weather outlook.
But a prolonged drought in the upper Midwest and forecasts of normal to below-normal precipitation across river basins that supply tributaries such as the Illinois and Ohio rivers could slow the Mississippi River’s recovery.
Low water has slowed grain shipments by export-bound barges from the agricultural Midwest for two years in a row during the busy fall harvest season, making U.S. corn and soybean exports less competitive on world markets.
“We expect drought conditions in the lower to middle Mississippi Valley to improve in the next few months. But for hydrological impacts like low river levels and low groundwater levels. The recovery will a little slower,” said Brad Pugh, drought operations lead with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.
The hydrological impacts could last until the end of January
The Mississippi River fell to an all-time low on Monday at the Memphis, Tennessee, river gauge, surpassing the previous record low water recorded nearly a year ago, according to National Weather Service data.
The river shallow conditions prompt barge shippers to limit the amount of grain transporte to avoid getting stuck in the parch, parch waterway., areas of the lower Mississippi River have been intermittently close to navigation over the past few weeks after ships were ground or as United States Army Corps of Engineers crews dredg low spots to deepen the channel.
El Nino Will Continue Until Mid-2024, Threatening Agriculture
The El Nino weather phenomenon will last until at least the first half of 2024, according to the United Nations’ latest forecast, with abnormal rainfall across Latin America raising concerns for the agricultural sector.
Pacific sea surface temperatures have soared in recent months, “with stronger warming along the South American coast,” according to a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report accessed by Reuters last Thursday.
Forecasts for the first quarter of 2024 show more rain than usual in southern cone countries such as Peru and Ecuador, as well as Mexico, along with ongoing dry conditions in Brazil, Guyana and Suriname.
However, the current dry season in Central America is expected to only last until the end of this year.
The report also emphasizes that agriculture, which includes crops, livestock, forestry and fisheries, is a particularly vulnerable group considering that this sector can absorb 26% of economic losses during extreme weather conditions and up to 82% during drought.
Key fish species such as anchovies and tuna on the northern coast of Peru and southern Ecuador are particularly at risk
Ecuadorian fishermen reported a 30% drop in tuna catches since February, he said.
El Nino and the opposing La Nina weather pattern have impacted production of key crops such as wheat, rice and corn in Latin America, which rely heavily on raw materials.
Extreme conditions caused by El Nino hit the region but at the same time it also faces the impacts of climate change such as heat waves, the report said.