Mississippi River Hits Dangerous Flood Levels, Stalls Barges and Roadways While Affecting Farmers

The Mississippi River was expected to crest on Saturday, but experts predict the mighty river will now keep rising through Monday. Hundreds of barges carrying cargo up and down the water artery have been stalled, and railway and highway shutdowns have affected farmers in the Midwest.

"It's sort of like Mike Tyson's quote, everybody's got a plan until you get punched in the face, right?" Chris Boerm, a transportation manager for a large agricultural commodities dealer, told Bloomberg. "Every day we come in and we've got a plan. But then it rains three inches somewhere overnight where it wasn't expected, and the plan changes."

The problem began during early spring when heavy rains followed heavy snowfall throughout states like Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri. As snow melted and ran off into the Mississippi River, heavy storms moved through the Great Plains region.

The National Weather Service reported on Saturday it expects the river to reach 46 feet by Sunday, which is 16 feet above flood stage. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported the river at 45.74 feet on Saturday afternoon.

Major flooding is expected along the border of Southern Iowa and Illinois, and southward all along the Missouri-Illinois border.

Meanwhile, other major river cities like Natchez, Mississippi, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, have felt the downstream flow — having set records for flood level by terms of weeks.

"A lot of locations since December to January have been above flood levels, and they probably will be in June to July,'' said Jeff Graschel, a hydrologist with the Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center in Louisiana. "We have another month or two before we can get some of these areas to go below flood.''

The recent level by the Mississippi isn't expected to reach the levels of 1993, when 17 million acres across nine states were flooded, but the recent flood levels could have a greater reach than just beyond the Midwest.

"In '93, the flood was really kind of concentrated in Iowa and the Upper Midwest," Boerm said in Bloomberg. "This has been much more expansive, getting all the inland rivers." Inland rivers affected include the Ohio, Illinois and Arkansas rivers, as well as the entire Mississippi moving south toward the Gulf of Mexico.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture stated that grain shipments of corn and soybean along the Mississippi, Arkansas and Missouri rivers are below both the five-year and three-year averages.

This doesn't include the shutdown of highways and railways in the Midwest that have been shutdown, preventing farmers from getting supplies, and conversely getting their crops to market for transportation.

"We are going to be missing almost three months of river traffic, I don't even know how we will get caught up," said Bob Hemesath, an Iowa corn farmer. "If the river facilities don't have barges that are caught up on old crop they won't be able to ship new crop. It's another stress for farmers."

Mississippi River Flooding 2019
Flooding from the Mississippi River inundates a neighborhood on June 7, 2019 in Grafton, Illinois. Residents along Mississippi river are bracing for the expected arrival of the crest at near record levels on Friday. Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images