(CNN) — Tower Rock, a large island in the middle of the Mississippi River south of St. Louis, is generally surrounded by water and accessible only by boat. But there is severe drought in the Midwest River levels For almost historical records, it allows people to access the rock formation on foot.
“The river is low enough that you can walk to Tower Rock without getting your feet wet or muddy,” Missouri resident Jeff Pickett told CNN. “I remember seeing something like this only once in my life.”
Photos taken by Pickett show many people walking along the rocky riverbank to the island tower, an easy walk that will continue as water levels are expected to continue to drop over the next two weeks.
Tower Rock can be reached on foot when the water level in the river is below half a meter Chester, Illinois, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation. That indicator fell to zero on Thursday and the forecast shows no signs of recovery anytime soon.
“More than 55% of the nation’s states are experiencing drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, making it the largest area affected by the event since April. More than 133 million people live in those areas, the highest number of affected people since 2016.
Severe drought affects more than 70% of Arkansas and nearly 40% of Missouri — up from 5% a month ago. Record-breaking rainfall has fallen in recent weeks, including Memphis, Fayetteville, Arkansas, and Springfield, Missouri. The Climate Prediction Center’s forecast is dry with below-average rainfall through at least October 23.
The extension of the Central American autumn drought had a significant impact on the Mississippi River. In Memphis, the river was at its lowest level since 2012 this week, the fifth lowest level ever recorded. For next week, the forecast calls for it to drop further, to the third lowest level on record.
More than 40 river gauges in the Mississippi River basin are reporting low water levels, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Bailey White, who lives in Tennessee, north of Memphis, told CNN she’s never seen the Mississippi River drop this low. White said she and her family boat go down the river several times a month, but they had a hard time doing it last Saturday.
“I’ve seen water levels go down a little bit, and I’ve seen them get really high, but I’ve never seen them before,” White said. “We could not even keep our small boat in the river. We had to try five different springs until we got it right. It’s a small boat, so it doesn’t sink deep into the water, but we had to be careful a few times or we’d hit the sand.”
Photos show how the river has shrunk from its banks. The normally mighty Mississippi looks like a small stream in some areas, with dry sand where several meters of water normally flow.
The river’s low levels coincide with a critical time of year for transporting crops from the heart of the country. CNN previously reported. The Army Corps of Engineers has kept some sections of the river flowing to traffic, although it is happening at a much slower rate. Hundreds of barges and boats line up, waiting to clear everything to get down the river.
Consolidated Grain and Transportation, which buys, stores and sells crops for export, can typically move grain in freighters loaded up to 12,500 tons, says David Gilbert, superintendent of the company’s Greenville, Mississippi, office.
But recently, low water levels have forced the company to keep loads much lighter, at around 8,600 tonnes.
“I don’t see him any better than he is right now,” Gilbert told CNN. “We are not charging at this time.”
Instead of shipping out their crops now, Gilbert says, many farmers are “dumping it in their bins” and waiting for better conditions a few weeks later.
As the supply chain crisis escalates, a playful atmosphere has been established at Tower Rock.
“Tower Rock, walking in the river only happens once in a while,” says ELainna Frommsdorf at KFVSA CNN affiliate.
Frommsdorf took his grandchildren for a walk on Monday, a school holiday. “There’s no school today, so it’s going to be a fun day for Grandma,” Frommsdorf said.
He told KFVS that his grandchildren are the third generation of his family to hike the rock formation. And her granddaughter Adeline Chowder was excited about the new experience.
“I’ve never done anything like this before, and it was a little challenging, but fun,” Crowden told KFVS.
CNN’s Carol Alvarado, Amanda Watts and Judson Jones contributed to this story.
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