does the mississippi river freeze

Does the Mississippi River freeze? It is a common question because everyone wonders if the second most sizable river in the US ever freezes or not.

So many factors play a role when it is about how often a river freezes. The same holds for the Mississippi River.

And considering its size, you may think it never freezes over. But, is it true? Does the Mississippi River ever freeze?

Yes, the Mississippi River can freeze over, though it does not happen often, and is less likely to happen in the future considering the ever-changing climate. 

Why Do Rivers Freeze?

why do rivers freeze

When the surrounding temperature decreases to the freezing point of water and stays at that level for a prolonged duration, rivers undergo the process of freezing.

The temperature at which freshwater freezes is 32F.

In the event that the air temperature remains consistently below freezing for an extended period, it is possible for the river’s surface to solidify.

Many other factors play a role in affecting the process of freezing, such as:

  • Gusts of wind
  • The movement of water
  • The existence of ice blockages 

An Important Consideration

Specific segments or parts of the Mississippi River could encounter ice formation in the event of extreme winter conditions.

That is especially true in the northern areas where the river is susceptible to frigid temperatures.

Fact: It is worth mentioning that the Mississippi River is substantial and formidable, and it generally does not completely freeze over throughout its entire span. 

Does the Mississippi River Freeze?

can the mississippi river experience freezing

The Mississippi River can freeze over in exceptionally frigid winter conditions, especially in the northern areas where it is exposed to colder temperatures.

As mentioned already, the solidification of the Mississippi River is an irregular and unforeseeable occurrence.

The freezing process and its magnitude are influenced by a range of elements, including weather patterns, air temperature, water flow, and the existence of ice dams

Why Is It Hard for the Mississippi River to Freeze Over Often?

why doesn't the mississippi river freeze frequently

The Mississippi River is a mighty and expansive river that possesses a substantial amount of water, resulting in a reduced likelihood of freezing.

That is true especially compared to smaller bodies of water such as rivers or lakes.

Typically, only segments or parts of the river might experience freezing. The locations and sizes of these frozen sections can differ from year to year.

As the Earth’s temperatures continue to increase, there is a possibility that the occurrence or intensity of extreme cold events could decrease.

Fact: It is important to note that the occurrence and strength of river freezing events can be impacted by climate change and fluctuations in weather patterns.

When Was the Last Time the Mississippi River Froze Over?

last frozen date of mississippi river

Due to the extensive human development along the Mississippi River, it rarely experiences freezing conditions.

However, things were quite different during the initial years of the 20th century.

Freezing was a frequent occurrence during the end of the 19th century and early 20th century

In this location, the water freezes entirely, forming a solid surface that allows individuals to walk on it.

Nevertheless, following the construction of the Alton Lock and Dam, the occurrence of freezing reduced due to the newfound capability to control water flow in specific regions.

Fact: The Mississippi River froze over in 1899 due to an unusually cold winter. 

A Strange Phenomenon

a strange phenomenon

Considering the immense presence of a significant waterway such as the Mississippi, it appears that any modifications have the potential to entirely transform our way of life.

And it was quite impactful particularly during the era when airplanes and automobiles were not readily available.  

One of the most remarkable aspects is the ice’s ability to produce a melodic sound.

During the 1800s and 1900s, individuals strolling on the icy surface experienced a peculiar phenomenon.

The frozen expanse would reverberate specific high-frequency noises, creating an echoing effect that resonated audibly in the surroundings. 

What Do You Call It When the Mississippi River Freezes Over?

freezing term of mississippi river

During the freezing period, the Mississippi River experiences a captivating metamorphosis referred to as an ice gorge.

This phrase sets apart the solidification of the Mississippi River from other bodies of water.

In this one-of-a-kind occurrence, the river transforms into a captivating display of stacked ice masses. They form enchanting structures that tower to remarkable altitudes.

The icy formations are often compared to the majestic height of a church spire, captivating the minds of those fortunate enough to see them.

The phrase “ice gorge” is commonly used to depict the frozen condition of the Mississippi River.

However, it is worth mentioning that the gorges formed in this area are comparatively smaller than those observed in other parts of the world.

Fact: Certain regions might encounter ice gorges of approximately 1000 feet in thickness, such colossal formations are not commonly observed along the course of the Mississippi River. 

How Often Does the Mississippi River Freeze Over?

mississippi river freezing frequency

The freezing of the Mississippi River does not occur simultaneously in its entirety, and it never happens often.

Only specific sections of the river usually freeze entirely. Although this occurrence is not particularly widespread, it is also not exceedingly uncommon.

According to historical records, it is believed that the Mississippi River experienced freezing conditions in St. Louis on approximately ten occasions from 1891 to 1938.

In the present day, though, it is uncommon to come across news about the freezing of the Mississippi River.    

Climate Change Effects on the Freezing of the Mississippi River

climate change impact on mississippi river freezing

You are less likely to hear the news of the Mississippi River freezing over these days mainly because of climate change.

Here is how it affects the freezing phenomenon: 

Water Temperature

Increasing global temperatures have the potential to cause less severe winter weather patterns on a global scale, which can impact the duration and scope of river freezing.

In areas where winters are experiencing increased warmth, there is a possibility that rivers may freeze less often or have shorter durations of freezing.   

Variable Freeze-Thaw Cycles

variable freeze-thaw cycles

Climate change can lead to increased unpredictability in weather patterns, resulting in alternating periods of freezing and thawing conditions.

The occurrence of freeze-thaw cycles during winter can result in the formation of less stable ice on rivers.

This leads to the repeated breaking up and reforming of ice multiple times throughout the season, and that is also true for the Mississippi River. 

Altered Precipitation Patterns

altered precipitation patterns

Alterations in precipitation patterns, like increased precipitation or a rise in the occurrence of winter rain events instead of snowfall, can affect the process of river freezing.

Precipitation falling onto pre-existing ice has the potential to generate a water layer, which can impede subsequent freezing or compromise the integrity of the ice formation.

The presence of these circumstances may lead to a decrease in the thickness or stability of the ice, which can have an effect on activities such as ice skating or the use of ice roads. 

Hydrological Changes

hydrological changes

Climate change has the potential to disturb the hydrological equilibrium of rivers, including the Mississippi River.

Climate change leaves an impact by modifying water flow patterns, thereby affecting the formation of ice.

Modifications in the accumulation of snowpack, the runoff during spring, or the timing of snowmelt can impact the accessibility of water for the freezing process.

Fact: Warmer temperatures can impact the formation and duration of ice cover, leading to reduced water flow or earlier ice breakup. 

Other Effects of Climate Change on the Mississippi River

mississippi river climate change impacts

Here are some other ways climate change can impact the Mississippi River, which in turn can have some dire consequences:

Climate Change Impact on the Mississippi RiverWhy Does It Happen?
Increased risk of floodingThere is a heightened risk of flooding when temperatures keep on rising and precipitation becomes more intense.
Sea level rise and salt water intrusionAs the world’s temperatures continue to rise, the sea level will rise, allowing saltwater to enter the lower Mississippi River.
Changes in wildlife and ecosystemsClimate change affects plant and animal habitats and life cycles, reducing biodiversity.
Impact on agriculture and economyThe Mississippi River can affect growing seasons, soil conditions, and water availability, ultimately affecting food security and agriculture.


Does the Mississippi River Freeze? Yes, the Mississippi River can freeze over if the conditions are right.

But, considering the size of the river, understand that it is less likely for it to freeze over completely.

The last time it happened was in 1899. And it is less likely to happen any time soon mainly because of rising temperatures due to climate change.