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Historic Drought Projected to Persist, Worsen

Historic Drought Projected to Persist, Worsen thumbnail

climate change huge droughts

NOAA’s latest seasonal drought outlook projects historic drought will persist.

Time is running out to avert a third summer of drought in much of the High Plains, West and Southwest, federal officials warned Thursday.

Without repeated, significant bouts of heavy snow and rain in the remaining days of winter, a large part of the country will face serious water supply shortages this spring and summer, when temperatures are hotter and average precipitation is normally low.

The drought already ranks as the worst, in terms of severity and geographic extent, since the 1950s. Though it’s not over yet, its economic impact appears to be severe, said Brad Rippey, a meteorologist at the Agriculture Department’s Office of the Chief Economist.

It “will probably end up being a top-five disaster event” on the government’s ranking of the costliest weather events of the past three decades, he said at a Capitol Hill briefing Thursday.

There is little relief predicted in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) latest three-month drought outlook, which the agency released Thursday. Federal forecasters predict that drought will persist in the Rocky Mountain and Plains states, expand throughout northern and southern California and return to most of Texas, a state that has been mired in drought since 2011.

NOAA does forecast improvements in drought conditions in the Upper Midwest and Southeast, areas that have received beneficial precipitation in recent weeks.

“The next couple of months will kind of determine how the spring and summer plays out in that part of the country,” said Jake Crouch, a climate scientist at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. Crouch said that continued drought conditions could threaten water supplies in many areas, particularly in the Southwest.

Dwindling Water Supplies

With drought extending into its second or even third year in some areas, the main concerns are shifting from agriculture and recreation to water supplies as rivers run dry and reservoirs shrink.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston on Feb. 15, Texas state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said water managers are especially concerned about the situation in West Texas, where emergency conservation plans have gone into effect as water supplies dwindle.

In the western U.S., low mountain snowpack is once again a concern, especially in portions of Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming that feed the Platte and Arkansas rivers, said Mike Strobel of USDA’s National Resources Conservation Service.

 

Western mountain snowpack compared to average. (Credit: USDA)

“We’ve got the same trend we had last year,” Strobel said. “But prior to last year, we had very good snowpack, so there was a lot of moisture in reservoirs and soil” when drought conditions hit. This year, reservoirs are running low and soils are dry, which could magnify the impact of a winter without much snow buildup.

In Colorado, where 100 percent of the state is experiencing some level of drought, snowpack is at 70 percent of the long-term average and just 91 percent of last year’s total, Strobel said. Streamflow forecasts are poor and reservoir levels are low.

“We just don’t have the water in storage right now as we’re heading into the spring and summer, periods that are essential for agriculture and water management,” he said.

Those dry conditions and poor snowpack have also raised the risk that water levels could drop on the Mississippi River later this year, in a repeat of factors that reduced barge traffic last fall.

“We need rain in spring and fall so that we don’t have a crisis like we had this year on the Mississippi,” said Steve Buan from NOAA’s North Central River Forecast Center.

The portions of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa that funnel water into the Mississippi are “bone dry,” Buan said. NOAA estimates there is a 40 percent chance that come fall of 2013, the Mississippi River will dip as low, or lower, than during the record-breaking autumn last year.

The drought was most likely initially set into motion by the cooler-than-average water temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean, combined with the effects of warmer-than-average waters in the Atlantic Ocean. Studies have shown that this combination tends to favor major drought events in the U.S.

But some scientists, such as Nielsen-Gammon, suggest that the overall warmer climate created by manmade global warming may have amplified this already devastating drought, particularly by triggering more intense heat during the spring and summer of 2012.

A recently released draft of a new federal climate change assessment shows that as the climate continues to warm in the next few decades, drought events are likely to become more frequent and severe, leading to more significant water supply and agricultural impacts in much of the U.S

Escalating Costs

The continuing drought has already taken a toll on the nation’s farmers, said the USDA’s Rippey.

Drought during last year’s growing season took “major hits on row crops,” especially corn and sorghum, he said. Parched conditions reduced the nation’s production potential for those two crops by about one-quarter. Drought cut corn yields by 4 billion bushels and sorghum yields by 100 million bushels.

According to Climate Central research released on Feb. 18, the states of Missouri, Illinois and Indiana were among the hardest hit “Corn Belt” states, with yields at nearly 30-year lows.

The U.S. soybean crop rebounded slightly during a cooler, wetter August last year, though the overall yield still dropped by 200 million bushels, USDA found.

But heading into spring, it’s winter wheat that is the most immediate concern, Rippey said. In Oklahoma and South Dakota, roughly two-thirds of the current winter wheat crop is rated “poor” or “very poor,” while more than half of Texas’ crop falls into the same categories despite some rainfall this winter.

“We are at high risk for abandonment this year,” Rippey said, predicting that farmers could walk away from 25 percent or more of the nation’s winter wheat this year, the worst since 2002, unless their crops begin receiving steady, regular rains.

USDA won’t release its official estimates of crop production for 2013 until mid-May. But the agency is optimistic that U.S. corn will do well this year, yielding 163.5 bushels per acre. July weather will tell the tale, Rippey said, but encouraging signs include ebbing drought in the eastern half of the Corn Belt.

Another Destructive Wildfire Season Ahead?

It’s still too early to tell whether poor snowpack and persistent drought will yield another severe fire season in the western U.S., experts said.

Last year’s fires consumed many of the dead and damaged trees and underbrush that fuel wildfires, said Jim Douglas, a senior advisor at the Interior Department.

“If that fuel doesn’t regrow, it’s not there,” he said. “So we could have drought conditions with nothing to burn yet. And we could have a spring with early moisture, with a lot of grass growing good and tall. If it dries out in late summer, we could have very bad fire conditions.”

The National Interagency Fire Center projects an immediate above-average fire risk in regions hardest hit by drought in its Feb. 1 outlook, including portions of the Oklahoma Panhandle and eastern Colorado. But in the drought-stricken Rocky Mountains and Southwest, fire season normally doesn’t begin until April, the center said, and what it will look like isn’t yet clear.

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15 Comments on "Historic Drought Projected to Persist, Worsen"

  1. actioncjackson on Mon, 25th Feb 2013 2:36 am 

    I think we’re going to get a few more believers (in climate change) shaken out of their mindless slumber when this shit storm materializes. But it’ll be business as usual and the drone will continue until people start losing money, because that’s all that matters these days. Pathetic.

  2. Plantagenet on Mon, 25th Feb 2013 2:44 am 

    Too bad Obama killed the EU carbon tax on air traffic and chickened out on passing a carbon tax on US fuels. I guess he would rather give speeches and pretend he is against climate change then actually do anything real.

  3. Ken300 on Mon, 25th Feb 2013 3:04 am 

    Too bad the Koch brothers, the oil companies and the coal companies are more interested in protecting their profits than in protecting people from the impact of climate change.

  4. BillT on Mon, 25th Feb 2013 3:22 am 

    From what I am reading in other sites, we passed the point of no return on the environment. The climate swings will only get worse until the whole economic system begins to collapse. From that point on, the price we pay will be in deaths all over the world, the Us included. Look at that picture and tell me that we can continue to eat ‘high off the hog’ when the Midwest turns back into a dust bowl and then a desert.

  5. Feemer on Mon, 25th Feb 2013 3:39 am 

    I live in Colorado, this is a serious problem, but many foolish republicans deny climate change, we had over 10 wildfires, climate change has let the pine bark beetles kill so many trees, there was lots of fuel, or agriculture production was cut by more than 30%, this is a serious problem. its very unfortunate that no carbon taxes have been passed, what obama NEEDS to do is direct the EPA to put emission restrictions on existing coal plants, that will help greatly

  6. Newfie on Mon, 25th Feb 2013 7:44 am 

    The fairy tale of never ending growth and progress hits the brick wall of Reality. How can so many people be so deluded ? What we call normalcy is in fact mass psychosis.

  7. BillT on Mon, 25th Feb 2013 10:39 am 

    Feemer, putting restrictions on coal plants will either shut them down or triple the cost of their electric. Are YOU ready for a tripled electric bill? Yes, we should have done something 20 years ago, but it is too late now. Sorry.

  8. Laci on Mon, 25th Feb 2013 2:00 pm 

    If this is the result of climate change, things will get worse, because we are unable to do anything about it. People like to blame local (national) politics, but this is a global problem, which can only be fixed at a global level. Those who advocate local unilateral action, as some have done on this forum, are actually doing more harm than goood to the cause. Asking for local unilateral action, is like asking individuals to voluntarily pony up money to pay for a town’s infrastructure for the greater good. There is a reason we do not chose to do that, but do taxation instead, it is called basic economics. I recomend people read “Sustainable Trade” by Zoltan Ban. Before we blame the Koch Brothers and Republicans, we have to understand that at greatest fault are environmentalists and sustainability crucaders, because they are pushing unviable and harmfull solutions.

  9. BillT on Mon, 25th Feb 2013 2:14 pm 

    Laci, I would say that Walmart customers are more to blame than anyone. 90% of what America buys is not necessary. If there was no demand for plastic crap, it would not be made. If there was one car per family, half the pollution would be gone. After all, families did quite well in a 1,000 sf house and one car and one bread earner before greed took over in America. China does not produce for themselves. They produce for the Western world.

  10. dsula on Mon, 25th Feb 2013 3:22 pm 

    Wow, BillT. How dare you to blame the innocent walmart customer. It is ALWAYS big bad oil companies’s fault and big bad media and evil USA. Suggesting that simple individuals should be held accountable for their actions and non-actions is outrageous. /sarcasm off

  11. Ken300 on Mon, 25th Feb 2013 5:11 pm 

    Maybe GOD is punishing RepubliCON states for not believing in Climate Change and allowing oil and coal companies to damage out environment.

  12. Mike999 on Mon, 25th Feb 2013 5:33 pm 

    Triple the cost of Bullshit you mean.
    Republicans love to lie to the public.

    Electric may go higher, in the short term, but Solar Power will be cheaper than ALL OTHER Energy Sources in 7 years. So, no it will NOT BE 3 x higher. And, we’ll be able to EAT.

    When you listen to right wing radio, you become the Political Idiot in the crowd.

  13. Mike999 on Mon, 25th Feb 2013 5:38 pm 

    Let’s make things real clear.

    Anyone stupid enough to listen to a Republican Talk, is inherently incompetent on all subjects. If you haven’t been smart enough to figure out the Republican FAILURE RATE of 90%, then you should shut up and stop talking. Let the rest of us solve America’s problems effectively and cheaply.

    How do you like that Sequester, by the way? Republicans F’ing the Republican Southern States MOST. They’re so dumb, they don’t even know they’re going to do more damage to Southern States. GET OUT OF POLITICS already.

  14. BillT on Tue, 26th Feb 2013 2:14 am 

    Mike999, least you forget, solar power comes as a byproduct of…oil. It cannot exist independent of hydrocarbon energy. Ditto for the other ‘renewables’. Therefore, they will not save your ass from the coming contraction in everything. Prices will drop only until the cost of the items that go into them go up. And they will. Do you think that you can build a solar panel from junkyard scrap? Nope, they are high tech items requiring materials from many places and countries. All brought to your doorstep by oil.

    When you buy your panels are you going to carry them to your house on your back? The batteries? The steel framework? The converters? The electric appliances you will use? Oh, you are going to use commercial electric from solar farms…lol. Good luck with that idea.

  15. Ken300 on Tue, 26th Feb 2013 4:11 pm 

    Every country needs to develop a plan to balance its population with its resources, food, water, energy and jobs…….

    Around the world population continues to expand while resources become more constrained.

    This is not sustainable.

    Access to family planning resources needs to be available to all that want it.

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