The low water that threatened to stop barge traffic on the Mississippi River and cut off the water supply for many metro-east residents is likely to persist at least until the spring of next year, according to experts.
The National Weather Service, the Illinois State climatologist and the venerable Old Farmer's Almanac don't offer much hope for significant rain to refill the Mississippi River any time soon.
"We have had a little bit of rainfall up north," U.S. Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Colin Fogarty said. "But we're treating this (drought) as a long-term problem because that's what it is. It's basically a slow motion natural disaster."
According to the National Weather Service, the Mississippi was at nearly 2 feet below gauge on Saturday and it is expected to reach 6 feet below around the end of the month. The all-time low for the river recorded at St. Louis was 6.2 feet below gauge recorded in 1940.
Fogarty said it is going to take sustained rains -- not a shower here and a shower there -- to refill the Mississippi river.
"The Mississippi River basin right now is like a dry sponge," Fogarty said. "When the ground is this dry and it rains, the water is just soaked right up. When you have a lot of rain, then it's more than the ground can handle. It runs off and ends up in the river."
Fogarty said he expects that the lack of rain is going to cause problems on the Mississippi River until at least April.
Illinois State Climatologist Jim Angel said last week that he believes the current drought is going to last well into 2013. He said the Mississippi Valley would basically need the amount of water that would be dumped on the area by a tropical storm to fill the river back up to normal levels. But that kind of weather isn't on the horizon.
According to National Weather Service predictions through July, no above average periods of precipitation are predicted. In fact, the abnormally dry conditions of the summer will likely add up to a warmer and drier than normal winter.
Precipitation across Illinois was below average for all but two of the last 12 months -- September and October, according to National Weather Service charts. In November, 1.26 inches of rain fell across Illinois, on average. That's 36 percent of the normal average rainfall for the month of 3.47 inches.
The 2013 Farmers Almanac predicts the Mississippi River Valley will play host to "wild temperature springs over the winter with periods of storminess." It projects the eastern portion of the upper Midwest, which includes Illinois and Wisconsin, to be colder than usual and very snowy.
A lot of snowfall could be just the cure for the Mississippi River. Typically, Fogarty said, melting snow from up north fills the river with water in the spring.
Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 618-239-2626.