Nasty drought worsens across much of the U.S. –

Nasty drought worsens across much of the U.S.

With nearly two-thirds of the United States abnormally dry or worse, the government’s spring forecast offers little hope of relief, especially in the West, where a devastating mega-drought has taken hold and worsened.

Agriculture and weather service officials warned of potential water use cuts in California and the Southwest, increased wildfires, low levels in key reservoirs such as Lake Mead and Lake Powell, and damage to wheat crops.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Official Spring Outlook Thursday sees an expanding drought with April, May and June drier than normal across a large swath of the country from Louisiana to Oregon. including some of the areas hardest hit by the most severe drought. And most of the continental United States is expecting a warmer-than-normal spring, except for small parts of the Pacific Northwest and Southeast Alaska, which makes the drought worse.

“We are predicting a prolonged and widespread drought,” said Mary Erickson, deputy director of the National Weather Service. “It is definitely something that we are seeing and that we are very concerned about.”

NOAA expects the spring drought to hit 74 million people.

Several factors contribute to the worsening drought, the agency said. A cooling La Niña of parts of the central Pacific continues to bring dry weather to much of the country, while heavy summer monsoon rains did not materialize in the southwest. Forecasters also say that California’s mega drought is associated with long-term climate change.

National Drought Monitor Thursday shows that nearly 66% of the nation is in abnormally dry condition, the highest level in mid-March since 2002. And meteorologists predict this will get worse, expanding into parts of Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota. , with small islands highlighted in parts of the Great Lakes and New England.

More than 44% of the nation suffers from moderate or worse drought, and nearly 18% suffer from extreme or exceptional drought, all west of the Mississippi River. Climate scientists are calling what is happening in the West a “mega drought.” which started in 1999.

“The drought of most of the West is already quite severe in its breadth and intensity, and unfortunately it doesn’t seem likely that there will be much relief this spring,” said UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain, who writes the Weather West blog and is not part of from NOAA’s perspective. “Winter rainfall has been well below average over much of California, and summer rainfall reached record low levels in 2020 in the desert of the Southwest.”

With the Sierra Nevada snow cover only 60% of normal levels, US Department of Agriculture meteorologist Brad Rippey said “there will be some water cuts and allocation cuts in California and perhaps other areas of the world. southwest “for agriculture and other uses. It will likely affect nut crops in the Golden State.

Winter and spring wheat crops have also been hit hard by the western drought with 78% of the spring wheat production area in drought conditions, Rippey said.

The dry and warm conditions of the coming months will likely bring “an improved wildfire season,” said Jon Gottschalck, head of NOAA’s forecasting branch.

UCLA’s Swain said the wildfires likely won’t be as severe as in 2020 because a lot of vegetation has already burned and drought conditions delayed regrowth. Last year, he said, the wildfires were so massive that it will be difficult to overcome them, although this fire season is likely to be above average.

Drought and heat create a vicious cycle. When it’s this dry, less of the sun’s energy goes into evaporating moisture from the soil because it’s not that wet, Swain said. That leaves more energy to heat the air, and the heat makes drought worse by increasing evaporation.

“Across the west, it is clear that climate change has increased temperatures essentially throughout the year, which has decreased the snow cover of the mountains and increased evaporation, which has substantially worsened the severity of weather conditions. ongoing drought, “he said.

In the coming weeks, parts of the central United States may see pockets of heavy rain, but the question is whether that will be enough to offset large rainfall deficits in the High Plains last year, Nebraska state climatologist Martha Shulski. saying.

The flip side of the drought is that, for the first time in three years, NOAA projects zero major spring floods, with smaller amounts of minor and moderate flooding.

Approximately 82 million people will be at risk of flooding this spring, mostly minor ones with no property damage. That’s less than 128 million people last year.

Floods tend to be a costly localized problem in the short term, while drought and wildfires affect larger areas and last longer, according to NOAA climatologist Karin Gleason.

Since 1980, NOAA has been tracking weather disasters. that caused at least $ 1 billion in damages. The 28 droughts have caused nearly $ 259 billion in damage, while the 33 floods have cost about $ 151 billion.


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Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears .


The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content.


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