How Often Does The Mississippi River Freeze

For many, the Mississippi River is a part of America’s history, an icon of its industrial past, and a source of beauty and inspiration. In the winter months, this great river can be found winding across the country’s frozen landscape, but many do not realize that the river can actually freeze. The very thought of the Mississippi River freezing can be both daunting and fascinating. But how often does it happen?

The Mississippi freezes occasionally during winter months. When temperatures dip below freezing, certain portions of the river freeze, blocking water flow and creating large ice chunks. However, the depths of the Mississippi River make it difficult for the entire river to freeze. It is much colder at the river’s bottom, so the cold temperatures don’t reach the river’s surface until much later in the winter months. That being said, most of the northern section of the Mississippi River does freeze each year, which often creates hazardous conditions for shipping vessels traveling the river.

But the danger isn’t just caused by the freezing temperatures. The river has to be in a resting stage for it to freeze. When the current is faster, air and evaporation combine with the water, and tend to keep it from freezing. That being said, when the river is at rest, the water can remain calm enough for ice to form around its stillness.

Two years ago, the ice on the Mississippi even threatened to build up enough to temporarily close the river. The Army Corps of Engineers had to break up the ice and open a small channel in order to keep the river open to vessel traffic. On average, the Mississippi freezes as far south as Wisconsin and usually as far north as Iowa in January or February. The duration of the river’s freeze is usually just a few days to a week, and in some years, the freeze doesn’t even occur.

According to engineers, the Mississippi is more likely to freeze in the northern states, such as, Missouri, Iowa and Illinois, which are the coldest sections of the river. This is due to their reasonable temperatures and average river levels. The northern parts of the river are shallower, around 20 feet deep, which makes them much easier to freeze than the much deeper sections in the southern states.

Some experts believe climate change could contribute a factor in the freezing of the Mississppi River in the coming years. Warmer climates may contribute to a decrease in temperatures, making the river more prone to freezing. This may also cause an increase in flooding as the warm winter months contribute to more frequent snow and rainfall

Environmental Effects

When the river does freeze, it can have major impacts on the environment. Ice floes and chunks floating in the river can end up in riverside wetlands and marshes, where the ice can pile up and block the rivers from animals that rely on the rivers for food and transportation. In addition, the movement of ice could cause erosion, which could destroy riverbanks and harm wildlife habitats.

The frozen river can also be hazardous to navigation, with some areas of the river becoming impassable due to thick ice. Because of this, the Mississippi Radar River Ice Control Center is employed to monitor the river’s conditions. Working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, they monitor daily river conditions and work to manage the river to prevent potentially dangerous conditions.

The Center directs vessels to areas of the river that have the least amount of ice, while ensuring the safety of those on board. By doing this, they are able to minimize the risk of ice damage or blockage to vessels, which helps to keep the river open for travel and commerce.

Impacts on Transportation

The Mississippi River is a major hub for transportation and commerce in the United States. Freight companies, grain elevators and barge fleets rely on the river for operations. That being said, the freezing of the river has major impacts on transportation.

When the river does freeze, barge fleets are unable to navigate the river and move freight. As a result, companies lose money, as the frozen river often leads to late shipments and sometimes even total losses of cargo. This can affect thousands of people who rely on the river for business and commerce.

In addition, ice on the river can have negative consequences on the health of the river. Ice can block ports and waterways, causing disruption to shipping and fishing. This can have major impacts on industries that rely on the river and its resources.

Threats of Climate Change

As climate change continues to be an issue, the Mississippi River’s freezing could become an even bigger concern. Warmer climates could lead to more snow and rainfall, which could create more ice on the river. This could make the river more prone to freezing and impact the navigation of vessels and freight.

In addition, changing climates could lead to more extreme weather, with periods of extreme cold and heat. This could lead to more hazardous conditions on the river, with the potential for ice dams, flooding and other dangers.

The effects of climate change are already being seen in the freezing of the river. In the past few years, the freezing of the Mississippi has led to hazardous conditions for navigation and transportation. This could be an increasing concern in the future, as changing climates could lead to more extreme weather and more hazardous conditions on the river.

Government Response

Faced with the challenge of managing and monitoring the Mississippi River’s freezing, the government has taken action. Years ago, the Army Corps of Engineers implemented the first yearly report of the river’s conditions and trends. This gave insights into the freezing of the river and helped the Corps develop plans and strategies to manage it.

Most recently, the Army Corps created the Mississippi Radar River Ice Control Center to monitor the river. This center works with the Corps to collect data and monitor the river’s changing conditions. By doing so, the Corps is able to manage the river and provide updates on the potential for freezing. This has been a major progress for managing the river’s freeze and helping to keep it safe for navigation and transportation.

Future Proposals

As climate change continues to be a looming issue, the government is exploring other strategies to ensure the river remains navigable in the winter months. One of the main methods proposed has been to control the flow of the river and keep it moving. By having the river move, ice will not be able to form as easily, reducing the freeze of the river.

Another proposal has been to create a snow curtain. This would be a wall of snow that would form a barrier around the river, trapping the cold air around the surface and reducing the freezing potential of the river. This has been used in some countries, such as Russia, and its effectiveness is being studied as a possible measure for the Mississippi.

Finally, the government is also exploring ways to increase their response time. If the river shows signs of freezing, they can implement measures quicker and more efficiently. This could include installing more ice breakers and ice boom technology, as well as creating better communication systems between monitoring organizations.

Research and Development

In response to the potential for the Mississippi River to freeze, research and development are being carried out by various organizations. Private firms, universities and the Corps of Engineers are all collaborating to develop better methods of managing the river. This includes studying the effects of climate change, exploring ways to keep the river from freezing, and implementing better response protocols.

One of the main focuses of this research is to find ways to detect when the river is about to freeze. By understanding the climate conditions and river patterns, organizations can better predict when the river is at risk for freezing, allowing them to take measures to mitigate any risks.

In addition, research is being done to help understand the effects of climate change on the river. Researchers are exploring how warmer climates will impact the freeze of the river and how we can best mitigate any risks. This could mean finding ways to control the flow of the river, reduce ice build-up, or even create snow Curtains to help reduce the risk of the river freezing.


While the Mississippi River freezes occasionally, the depth of the river and the fast moving current usually prevent the entire river from freezing. However, with climate change, this could become a greater concern in the future, with an increasing risk of the river freezing. That being said, the government and various organizations are researching and developing ways to keep the river open and navigable in the winter months.

Raymond Strasser is a passion-driven writer and researcher, dedicated to educating readers on the topic of world rivers. With a background in Geography and Environmental Studies, Raymond provides insightful pieces which explore the impact and importance that rivers have around the world.

Leave a Comment