I’ve known that the Mississippi has changed course over the eons, but I didn’t know it was so drastic. At one time in entered the Gulf via what we know of as Texas. At another, it was way to the east in the Florida panhandle. The most likely course is where it’s been trying to go for a long time, but the Army Corps of Engineers has kept it in check.
The Mississippi almost won the battle in 1973. Some scientists are worried that the current record flooding might be too much for the Corps’s structures to hold. Here’s fascinating report:
Once the Mississippi River enters the Bayou State, it turns sharply east before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico, 95 miles downriver of New Orleans. But a shorter and steeper path to the ocean lies to the west along the Atchafalaya River, a distributary of the Mississippi and Red rivers that cuts through the heart of Cajun Country. In the 1950s, scientists concluded that the Mississippi was on the brink of shifting course, and its main flow would divert to the Atchafalaya by 1990. If that were to happen, New Orleans and Baton Rouge would be choked off from water and areas such as Morgan City (which sits at the mouth of the Atchafalaya) would be inundated.
John McPhee’s excellent account of the dilemma from 1987 is getting lots of re-reading these days. This was back in the days when the New Yorker published l-o-n-g stories, and McPhee’s were among the lengthiest. And the best.