(Bloomberg) -- Brace yourself, U.S. South. The Mississippi Riveris coming, and so are the Arkansas, the Red, the Ohio and theMissouri.

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The water on the Mississippi River is already so high thatMissouri has closed interstate highways. Governor Jay Nixonactivated the National Guard to stave off disaster.

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And the floods only stand to get worse. Warmer-than-usualweather through December has precipitation falling as rain. Someareas have seen 5 to 10 inches (12 to 24 centimeters) above normalflowing into the rivers instead of being locked up as snow and iceon solid ground until spring. Flooding on the lower Mississippi maybecome severe enough to force the opening of the Bonnet CarreSpillway protecting New Orleans, according to the Lower MississippiRiver Forecast Center.

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“It is very unusual,” said Jeff Graschel, a hydrologist at theforecast center, an arm of the National Weather Service. “We have apretty significant flood event over the Mississippi and Ohiorivers. The magnitudes are a little less than 2011.”

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In other words, this year’s water levels are just shy of modernrecords. Four years ago, flooding was so severe that CharlesCamillo, an Army Corps of Engineers historian, wrote a book aboutit. Overflowing rivers deluged cities, slowed barge traffic andthreatened refinery and chemical plant operations. The onlydifference is the 2011 flood happened in May.

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Flood stage

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Today, the Missouri River is at a major flood stage, and it’spouring into an already swollen Mississippi, forecast to reach itssecond-highest crest at St. Louis around the start of the new year.All of that water will join the Ohio and together flow toward someof the most densely packed industrial river fronts in thecountry.

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“We are going to exceed records for this time of year for theMississippi and the Ohio,” said Graschel, based in Slidell,Louisiana.

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Barges on the Mississippi handle about 60% of U.S. grain exportsentering the Gulf of Mexico through New Orleans, as well as 22% ofits petroleum and 20% of its coal. Flooding had raised thecosts for barge delivery to export terminals in New Orleans by 10cents a bushel for soybeans and 5 cents for corn since Friday, INTLFCStone Inc. said Tuesday.

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Refineries, factories

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Dow Chemical Co., Archer-Daniels Midland Co. and Valero EnergyCorp. are among the companies with refineries, factories andshipping sites along the river. They’re all still weeks away fromseeing flooding, as Graschel said it isn’t forecast to reach NewOrleans until the third week of January.

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Even after the flood bulge makes its way into the Gulf ofMexico, the vigil will have to continue, he said. There is still awinter’s worth of rain and snow coming, in part because of thisyear’s strong El Nino.

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“We will certainly have to be more watchful,” Graschel said.

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--With assistance from Jeff Wilson and Megan Durisin.

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Related: Storms pummel Pacific Northwest resulting inflooding, landslides

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