Safe Harbor Updates

The Great Flood of 2019

Posted: Mar 18, 2020 9:01:00 AM

In 2019, the Midwest experienced some of the worst flooding in the nation’s history. The “Great Flood of 2019” occurred along the Mississippi River and its tributaries in Kansas, Missouri, South Dakota, Iowa, and Nebraska. During the spring of 2019, the Mississippi River reached record-high levels and quickly became the longest-lasting flood on record. The flood wreaked havoc on the Midwest, destroying farms, homes, and businesses. 

Researchers believe climate change was one of the major contributing factors to the devastating floods. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration determined the year through May 2019 was one of the wettest 12-month periods in the U.S. on record. A lethal combination of heavy spring rain, rising temperatures, and melting snow overwhelmed the waterways, causing rising waters and, eventually, broken levees. 

You’ve no doubt heard that the farm industry took a major hit – but so did the maritime industry. 

Impact on the Maritime Industry

Traders and shippers use these waterways to transport barges full of goods, such as grain and fertilizer, to major ports along the Gulf. But the flooding led authorities to deem many of the passages unsafe due to strong currents and obstructions along the river floor. They closed multiple locks on the Mississippi River and suspended traffic on certain sections, such as the Lower Illinois River. They set tow size restrictions and, in some areas, limited passage under bridges to daylight hours. These shipping limitations resulted in major disruptions, delays, backlogs, and lost revenue for the maritime industry.  

The Great Flood of 2019 also put fleets, crew, and cargo in harm’s way. For example, in May, two barges broke loose on the Arkansas River (for the third time during the season), rammed into the lock and dam. The barges sank, though fortunately they did not break the dam or bridge, which could have been disastrous for the surrounding community. Another incident happened in July, when six barges wound up on a farm after a levee breach near Alexander County, Illinois. 

The flood eventually subsided, and the maritime industry got to work repairing port facilities, dredging portions of the Mississippi River Ship Canal, responding to shoaling, and replacing navigational buoys. There may be further challenges down the road, as barge operators deal with uneven shipments due to farmers’ inability to finish planting in 2019 and the vacillating demand that will accompany the shortfall. But there’s a silver lining in all this: the industry will put what it learned during the Great Flood of 2019 to work, creating a safer working and shipping environment for all involved. 

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