MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Mississippi River has risen to more normal levels after months of being near record lows. Barge traffic was slowed with many vessels struggling to make the commute up and down the river due to the low water.
Mississippi River approaches record low levels
Latest river levels and forecast
As of December 15th, 2022, the Mississippi River at Memphis was at a stage of 7 feet, according to the National Weather Service.
The river reached a record low point of -10.79 feet on Monday, October 17th. This was a new record low for the river, beating the previous record low of -10.7 feet in July 1988.
Recent rains in the Memphis area and especially upstream brought the river level up several feet recently.
Other gauges in the area including Tiptonville, Osceola, Tunica, and Helena have also risen recently.
How can the Mississippi River level be negative?
The "zero" level on the gauge is arbitrary - meaning, for lack of a better term, it's random. This zero level was chosen hundreds of years ago and was never updated, even as the gauge was relocated and the bottom of the river channel changed.
Because of this, the zero level on the gauge isn't actually the bottom of the river. Even when the river level falls below zero on the gauge, the river is still 20-30 feet deep in the middle.
What causes the river levels to fluctuate?
In general, rainwater and runoff play a large part in changing our river level.
But, it's not necessarily rain in Memphis that will cause the river to rise here. Since the river is constantly flowing downstream, rain needs to fall north of Memphis in states like Illinois and Missouri to see our river level rise.
In spring, river levels typically rise as snow melts in the northern United States, with that water filtering into the river.