MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Everyone from economists to engineers is keeping a close eye on the Mississippi River water levels, at risk of falling to record lows in the weeks ahead.
The dry conditions are also drying up how much crops river barges can carry, which could make the highest inflation of grocery prices in decades even worse in the months ahead.
Wheat, corn and soybeans account for 60% of American exports from the Gulf Coast.
Our ABC24 drone camera Monday found the Mississippi River in Memphis a shell of its former self, with sandbars prevalent and the seventh lowest level recorded over the weekend.
"I'll summarize it as significant," Michael Clay with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said.
Clay works with other river communities to adjust and keep river cargo flowing, even when levels are forecasted to approach a record low by month's end.
"Unless it rains more, which the meteorologists are not seeing at this moment, it's going to continue to fall again," Clay added.
While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said a release from the Ohio River will raise the Mississippi River's level in Memphis two feet in the coming days, he's still concerned after that.
"Just downstream of us as we move into the Vicksburg district corps of engineers, there are several activities that are requiring short-term channel closures," Clay said.
"Any disruption that happens right now, it will take months before it shows up in the grocery store," Dr. John Gnuschke, an economist in Memphis, added.
Dr. Gnuschke said the low river levels limit how much crops can flow to market.
That means the highest year-to-year increase in grocery prices since 1979 will be prolonged for many shoppers.
"This just says that this part of the inflation story is not going to decline as fast as we might have hoped," Dr. Gnuschke said.