The effects of increased weather whiplash are being up and down the Mississippi River basin. Communities are still working to recover from the deadly and destructive floods this summer, even as the region’s worsening drought pushed Mississippi River water levels so low barges carrying crucial exports from America’s Breadbasket can no longer navigate the river. Last week there was a 1,700-barge traffic jam as crews had to dredge the river to keep them from running aground in Mississippi, while the drying river allows salt water to encroach from the ocean, endangering drinking water in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. Climate change, mainly caused by the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels, is making droughts worse and more frequent; it also contributes to the conditions necessary for extreme precipitation events.
“The future will be characterized by more extreme events, simply because our source of water vapor will be hotter,” NC State professor and a lead scientist behind the National Climate Assessment Ken Kunkel told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “The system will have more fuel to work with.” Even as river levels are at their lowest in a decade, the official death toll of the torrential rain and flooding inundated Missouri and Kentucky this summer rose late last week to a total of 43 people, in addition to the two killed in St. Louis. (Mississippi River basin flooding: Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel; Drought: Washington Post $, Gizmodo, CNN; Kent. death toll: CNN; Climate Signals background: Extreme precipitation increase, Drought)