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Driving the Day: Opposite of a Drought

May 1, 2023   Politico Pro: Morning Transportation (email newsletter)

OPPOSITE OF A DROUGHT: Extreme weather is again causing problems on the Mississippi River — this time, flooding expected this spring is likely to bring the river to its highest level in over 20 years, according to the National Weather Service — a see-saw from the drought in the fall, which dried up portions of the river and required constant dredging to keep freight moving.

— This time around, record winter snowfall coupled with “rapid” warming has led to torrential melting and flooding down the Mississippi, according to the NWS. For the next three weeks, USDA said, all barge traffic across part of the Upper Mississippi has stopped due to flooding. And USDA also predicts that around the end of this week, locks and dams as far south as Saverton, Missouri (around the Mississippi River’s midpoint) could be forced to shut down until mid-May due to high water. No freight is being accepted along the Twin Cities and mid-Mississippi sections of the river.

— The NWS predicts that most sites on the river will have a high chance of flooding this spring that’ll register among the top five floods on record. The lock and dam closures caused by flooding, in addition to slower grain sales, has depressed barge freight rates, according to USDA, which may prompt some companies to drop the number of barges they maintain in service. It’s not a busy export season for the U.S., but the closures also pose a logistical challenge for shippers with north-bound shipments that will have to be diverted to train or rail.