Have you been down to look at the Mississippi River lately? At the north end of Mud Island, the Wolf River looks like a trout stream entering the main channel. Across the way, vast stretches of river bottom are now sandbars, exposed and dry. Stone jetties that normally sit deep in the water, channeling the current, look like fortress walls. The Mighty Mississippi isn't so mighty these days.
Weather events like hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods draw the cameras of the Weather Channel and the attention of the public for a week or so at a time, but the "extreme event" that may end up impacting us more than any other is long-term drought.
We're in the midst of the worst drought in the United States in 50 years. One out of every three counties in the U.S. is currently classified as a "drought disaster" area. You might want to read that sentence again. Additionally, 61 percent of the continental U.S. is experiencing "moderate to exceptional drought," according to the Department of Agriculture.
We're not experiencing drought here in the Mid-South, but we are being impacted by it. On December 11th, the river level will fall to the extent that barge traffic will be severely affected if not halted, forcing food producers and other corporations that use barges to carry goods to find other methods of transport. The Mississippi River is predicted to reach an all-time recorded low level on December 22nd. This, less than 18 months after Tom Lee Park was under water due to record flooding.
Out west, seven states depend on the Colorado River for water for agriculture and human consumption. That river is also drying up. There is now a federal proposal in the planning stages to build a water pipeline from the Missouri River across Kansas to Denver. It doesn't take a geographic genius to figure out that that diverted water would further negatively impact the Mississippi's flow.
This is big stuff. The National Climatic Data Center now says that 2012 will end up being the hottest year on record in the U.S. It was also the "most extreme for temperature, precipitation, and drought" on record. This isn't "weather"; it's climate change. The earth is warming; the ice caps are melting at unparelled rates. Whether you believe it's the result of human activity or just a "natural" cycle, it's here. It's real. And we'd better start paying attention.
Old Man River is.