Quick guide to Mississippi River conditions

southbound towboatI realize that some of my friends out in the eastern suburbs don’t get to see it very often, but the Mississippi River is the area’s most notable geographic feature.  Friends for our Riverfront has done a great job of exploring the history of the river in the Memphis area with emphasis on Memphis’ historic cobblestone landing.

We notice the changes in the river – sometimes more sandbars and exposed banks; sometimes the river widens to miles wide as flooding takes it over the banks on the Arkansas side, and covers the cobblestones at the foot of  Monroe.  The level of the river can fluctuate as much as 50 feet vertically during the course of a year.

River Stage

River Stage is measured on a scale with 0 feet (zero) being the lowest the water level is supposed to get at Memphis.  Record low is -10.7 feet in 1988.  Was the river dry? No, but it was low enough to greatly impede barge traffic.  Flood Stage at Memphis is 34 feet.  34 feet on the vertical scale is the point where water overflows the low lying river banks, most notable seen looking west from Downtown.  At flood stage, you see water for miles on the Arkansas side, until the levee system stops it from going farther.  But that’s not all.  The stage can go significantly higher.  The record high water on the “Memphis gauge” was 48.7  feet during the 1937 flood.

If you have ever walked the River Walk south of Beale Street you may have noticed the large black and white signs with numbers that give the river stage.  That information  is posted and updated as a navigation aid for river pilots, who are familiar with how the water acts at different stages.

Your Government at work

river state chart

The National Weather Service, through its Advanced Hydrologic Predicton Service, provides comprehensive river information for Memphis and all the other towns along the Mississippi and other navigable rivers.  Just click on the chart or this link for more information about the river than you can imagine.  Check out the other River towns too.

And if you really find this information exciting, you can subscribe to the Weather Service River RSS feed and get updates every few hours.

Related articles

  • Shippers worry river may not be deep enough (commercialappeal.com)
  • Facts on the Mississippi River (brighthub.com)

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