(Memphis) It’s been years since the Mississippi river has been this low and this hard to navigate.
The river can go from 25 feet to 10 feet in the blink of an eye, keeping river pilots on their toes.
Coast Guard Officer Nick Frascella commands the buoy tender Kankakee and constantly travels up and down river from about Helena, Arkansas to New Madrid, Missouri.
Frascella says this spot at Memphis is one of the most challenging, ”Absolutely, you can see the width of the channel is reduced so bad that this area right here is one of the worst areas to get through."
There’s so little water here the boat only has a few feet between it and the bottom.
The danger of on-coming traffic and it gets tricky and dangerous, fast.
”You have to think really far ahead and plan ahead, especially in you’re meeting other vessels in that area”.
In fact, he says Captains have to sort of dance around each other with highly choreographed moves so there’s enough room for both to make it through the narrow channel with enough water in it for both boats.
And when the water gets this low the current gets faster and more dangerous.
That’s why Frascella keeps an eye out the window and the other on a panel full of constantly changing instruments guiding him to safe water.
He’s had to remain extra vigilant for months now, ”I'll be glad when we get some rain yeah, absolutely. Rain will bring us a little bit of a break”.
This river ballet should be winding down to its final act.
The drought of 2012 won’t match the ’88 drought but lots of folks out here will breathe easier when it’s all over.