Tower Rock in the Mississippi River is accessible by foot now as water levels reach severe lows.

Tower Rock is a large, imposing island in the Mississippi River, a ways south of St. Louis. The tall dome of stone is usually a short boat ride from shore, but with the severe drought conditions of the Midwest, the river has fallen low enough that people can walk to the island without getting muddy, let alone wet.

Concerns about the falling water level in the Mississippi began over the winter. Poor snowfall in the massive Mississippi River basin, which stretches from the Rockies to the Appalachians, kicked off the problem.

“A lot of the water that you see on the lower Mississippi River, it originally starts as a snowflake in Montana,” said Michael Steenhoek, executive director of a farmowner’s coalition, adding that the lack of snowfall last winter “just continued to compound and of course summer we didn’t get much rainfall, so now we’re in the situation we’re in today.”

Tower Rock can be reached by a natural stone causeway whenever the water drops below 1.5 feet measured on the river gauge at nearby Chester, Illinois. As of Thursday, that gauge was entirely out of the water, measuring 0 feet. Most, but not all years, the water drops low enough that tourists can walk out through shallow water across the causeway. This year it is entirely dry.

Over the weekend, another river gauge on the Mississippi, this one in Arkansas, set an all-time record for low measurement, along with two other meters nearby. Over 40 monitored river gauges across the Mississippi Basin are reporting low water, according to NOAA.

Over 55% of the contiguous United States is currently in drought conditions, affecting over 133 million people. Below-average rainfall is expected to continue at least through the end of October.

Photo: Shutterstock