(via Flickr/The Confluence)

The Army Corps of Engineers has started releasing more water from Carlyle Lake in Illinois to help keep barges moving along the Mississippi River.

Army Corps of Engineers Spokesman Mike Peterson says they had a pretty good idea this summer’s brutal drought would cause big shipping problems in the fall and winter.

So, they held back water in Carlyle Lake, which is a little over 50 miles east of St. Louis, because it's one of the region's few reservoirs with a little extra water from rain.  

(via NASA/Goddard Conceptual Image Lab)

An updated Mississippi River forecast is predicting that  low-water levels will likely linger throughout the winter.  The forecast exacerbates concerns that shipping may be impacted along a key stretch near St. Louis.

The latest outlook by National Weather Service Hydrologist Mark Fuchs shows that without significant rain, the river at St. Louis will likely fall to dangerously low levels by the end of December

(via Flickr/pasa47)

Politicians across the Midwest are continuing to press the President to declare a state of emergency on the Mississippi River to allow barge traffic to keep flowing.

Every year roughly $180 billion worth of freight makes its way up and down the river.

Now, a record shortage of water on the nation’s major inland waterways is expected to put upward pressure on everything from food items to electricity.

The drought effect

Nation's Drought Gets Worse

Nov 21, 2012
(Map courtesy of National Drought Mitigation Center)

A new report shows that the nation's worst drought in decades is getting worse again, ending an encouraging five-week run of improving conditions.

The weekly U.S. Drought Monitor report shows that 60.1 percent of the continental U.S. was in some form of drought as of Tuesday. That's up from 58.8 percent the previous week. The portion of the lower 48 states in extreme or exceptional drought - the two worst classifications - also rose, to 19.04 percent from last week's 18.3 percent.

Adam Allington / St. Louis Public Radio

Businesses that work and ship on the Mississippi River are seeking a presidential declaration keep water flowing out of reservoirs on the Missouri River.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers closes dams in South Dakota at this time every year to store water to maintain levels later in the spring and summer.

The Missouri River accounts for roughly 60 percent of the water flowing by St. Louis. In a drought-year like this year, George Foster of St. Louis’ J.B. Marine says reducing river levels would risk closing the shipping channel.

(via Flickr/The Confluence)

Updated 12:29 p.m.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and the barge industry are imploring the federal government to keep water flowing on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers or face potential "economic disaster."

The drought has left many waterways at historic lows. Nixon sent a letter Friday urging the Army Corps of Engineers to rethink plans to reduce the amount of water released from the Missouri's upstream reservoir. That would also reduce flow on the Mississippi below St. Louis.

Mo. Dept. of Conservation

This summer’s devastating drought and heat wave actually benefited some of Missouri’s native birds, in particular the bobwhite quail.

Bobwhite quail build their nests on the ground, and the hot and dry weather from both this summer and last provided better conditions for incubation.  Max Alleger is a wildlife ecologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC).  He says the bobwhite quail population took a big hit in 2008 due to record-setting rainfall, as it was hard for them to keep their eggs warm on wet ground.

National Drought Mitigation Center, Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln

Missouri’s overall drought picture remains dry, although there is some slight improvement in portions of the Show-Me State.

The latest map shows the drought still covering the entire state, and most of it in the severe category – although three pockets of land where drought conditions are only moderate have grown slightly larger over the past two weeks.  Those pockets are located in northeast, east-central and southwest Missouri.  Mark Svoboda is a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

After one of the driest summers on record, recent rains have helped in some parts of the country. But overall, the drought has still intensified. The latest tracking classifies more than a fifth of the contiguous United States in "extreme or exceptional" drought, the worst ratings.

In some parts of the Lower Midwest, water-starved crops have collapsed, but the farmers have not. Farmers across the country are surviving, and many are even thriving. This year, despite the dismal season, farmers stand to make exceptionally good money, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

National Drought Mitigation Center, Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln

Drought conditions have eased across most of Missouri, but some parts of the state are still very dry.

Much of the relief can be credited to the remnants of Hurricane Isaac, which moved through the Show-Me State three weeks ago.  Brian Fuchs is a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  He says, though, that portions of Missouri missed out.

Stikywikit / Flickr

Updated 1:45 p.m. Lock 27 reopened this morning at 3:30 a.m. after being closed for 5 days. According to the Army Corps of Engineers, it may take up to 72 hours to push through the  63 vessels and 455 barges, some from as far as New Orleans, that backed up during the closure. The Corps estimated that the closure cost nearly $3 million per day . Lock 27 underwent major rehab in the past few years and was damaged due to low water levels.

Our original story:

It may have been pushed out of the headlines this week, but the worst drought in 50 years is still spreading across the U.S. At least moderate levels of drought have now enveloped more than 64 percent of the country. That's bad news for farmers -- and for gardeners! Americans spent $29 billion on their gardens last year, according to the National Gardening Association. And the drought is forcing many people to make some hard and expensive horticultural choices. Our Adam Allington reports for Marketplace.

(via Flickr/KOMUnews/Malory Ensor)

Will be updated.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has extended the state of emergency related to the drought that has gripped the state for most of the summer. 

National Weather Service

*This story will be updated 

*Updated Sunday at 2:45 p.m. with details river levels and drought relief 

Large parts of rural Missouri and Illinois had between three to five inches of rainfall this weekend, according to the National Weather Service.

In St. Louis, Nation Weather Service Meteorologist Jayson Gosselin said Oakville received three and a half inches of rain, the most in the metropolitan area. 

Gosselin added, though, that it will take much more rain to snap this summer’s historic drought.

Standing outside the Central Minnesota Ethanol Co-Op in Little Falls, Minn., there's not a lot going on. The pungent smell of fermentation that typically hangs in the air here is absent. And trucks piled high with corn are nowhere to be seen.

They're idled in part because of high corn prices. And it's unclear when that will change.

"Most of the industry is just breaking even in terms of profitability or actually running at slightly negative margins," says Geoff Cooper, vice president of research and analysis at the Renewable Fuels Association.

(via WNYC)

The aftermath of Hurricane Isaac, expected in the St. Louis area this weekend, may help with the severe drought that's been a constant for most of the summer.

Our friends at WNYC have put together this interactive, near-real-time map of the storm's progress, so you can watch for yourself as the welcomed moisture makes its way from the Gulf Coast to our Gateway City.

(via Flickr/IndofunkSatish)

Isaac could bring rain to Missouri

As people on the gulf seek shelter from Hurricane Isaac, weather officials say the storm could bring some welcome relief to drought-stricken Missouri farmers.

The National Weather Service is calling for 2 to 6 inches of rain to fall the Mississippi River Valley, including Arkansas, Missouri and southern Illinois.

National Drought Mitigation Center, Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln

Drought conditions in Missouri have slightly intensified over the past week, according to the latest data from the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

More than a third of the state is in D4, or exceptional drought, the worst category.  That area covers the Boot-heal and a swath of western Missouri from Kansas City down to around Springfield.  The rest of the Show-Me State is in extreme drought (D3), the second-worst category.  NDMC Climatologist Mark Svoboda says Missouri can expect a brief reprieve next week.

This summer's drought has hit more than half the states in the country. Crops are suffering, but farmers might not be. Most farmers have crop insurance.

U.S. taxpayers spend about $7 billion a year on crop insurance. It's our largest farm subsidy.

And this subsidy goes in part to farmers — who will tell you themselves they aren't so sure about the whole idea. "I have an aversion to it," says Jim Traub, a corn and bean farmer in Fairbury, Illinois. "But you're not going to turn it down."

PRI's midday news magazine show, Here and Now, shared this audio trip down the drought-ridden Mississippi River. Here and Now is hosted out of WBUR in Boston. Listen via the link.