Flooding is expected to surge farther south along the Mississippi River over the coming days, which will put many more levees at risk of failing, according to AccuWeather.com senior meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.
“Communities along the Mississippi River in Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana should be prepared for flood issues over the coming weeks as the copious amount of water travels farther south,” he said. “Water levels will continue to rise in Memphis, Tenn., and Greenville, Miss., as well as Baton Rouge, La., through the second week of January.”
Levees will be forced to hold back the rising water but in some cases may fail, as has been seen in the past week, he added.
While areas surrounding the southern portion of the Mississippi prepare, people and business have started recovery efforts after flooding on the middle portion of the Mississippi River as some of its tributaries reached levels that have not been seen during winter months since records began during the middle 1800s.
The National Weather Service reported Jan. 2 that the Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau had peaked at 48.86 ft. before beginning to recede. The Mississippi River at St. Louis, Mo., crested Jan. 1 at 42.58 ft., just shy of the 1993 record.
“While the river has crested, several more days of flooding are still expected, which will slow down cleaning and recovery efforts,” Sosnowski said, adding that flooding is also occurring along the Illinois, Bourbeuse, lower Missouri, lower Arkansas, Meramec and part of the lower Ohio rivers.
Ardent Mills, the largest U.S. flour mill, resumed bulk shipments this week at its Alton, Ill., mill after floodwaters along the Mississippi River began to recede. However, the company said one of its mills in Chester, Ill., was still closed.
“With a significant drop in Mississippi river levels, Ardent Mills’ Alton, Ill., community mill began cleaning and sanitizing this past weekend,” the company said in a Jan. 4 statement on its website, adding that the Chester community mill had just begun cleanup operations.
“The Chester community mill likely will be down for multiple weeks. The company continues to coordinate with customers to ensure that orders are fulfilled from the Ardent Mills’ network of mill locations," the statement said.
The National Grain & Feed Assn. (NGFA) said some elevators in high water areas have had to shut down due to the flooding, which slowed barge traffic carrying grains throughout the region.
“High waters are expected to affect the lower Mississippi in the next few days and will impact our leading export region for corn and soybeans,” NGFA told Feedstuffs in an email. “It’s difficult to estimate the exact impact or duration of this flooding, but it may last through much of January.”
According to Mike Steenhoek, executive director for the Soy Transportation Coalition, said the lower Mississippi region accounts for 58% of U.S. soybean exports and 67% of U.S. corn exports, which makes it, by far, the leading export region for both commodities.
“It will take three to four weeks for the water in the upper Mississippi and Ohio River regions to be expelled from the lower Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico,” Steenhoek said.
He said he had heard reports of a few elevators being closed due to flooding or inaccessibility but added that railroads seem to be handling the freight diversions that have occurred or are occurring.
There is some good news in the short term, according to Sosnowski, who said colder and drier weather will return during much of January, and freezing temperatures at night will slow the runoff.
However, Steenhoek said the consequences to barge transportation and grain exports will remain nonetheless, even if weather is ideal moving forward.
According to Steenhoek, 80% of U.S. soybean exports occur between the months of September and February. Prior to the South American harvest, which occurs in February, March and April, the U.S. is the leading supplier of soybeans in the global marketplace. As a result, any disruption of service during this critical time frame is of concern, he said.
Fortunately, railroads are well positioned to accommodate volumes that need to be diverted from barges to other modes of transportation, Steenhoek added.
“A couple years ago, demand for rail service exceeded supply. Since then, railroads have invested significantly in their networks,” he said. “In addition, many farmers are electing to store a sizable percentage of their 2015 harvest in order for a more opportune time to sell. As a result, railroads have available capacity to absorb additional volumes.”