Widespread Drought Is On Its Way

Climatologists say that much of the US can be in for a springtime drought.

According to the National Weather Service and government agricultural officials, for much of the country already in the grip of drought-like conditions, it is only going to get worse. The New York Post is reporting that with nearly two-thirds of the United States abnormally dry or worse, the government’s spring forecast offers little hope for relief, especially in the West, where a devastating megadrought has taken root and worsened.

Officials are warning of possible water restrictions in California and the Southwest and of an increased risk of wildfires. In addition, there are growing concerns over low levels in key reservoirs such as Lake Mead and Lake Powell and damage to wheat crops.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) official spring outlook sees an expanding drought with a drier than normal April, May, and June for a large swath of the country from Louisiana to Oregon – which includes several areas already hardest hit by severe drought conditions. Officials went on to say that nearly all of the continental United States is looking at warmer than normal spring, except for tiny parts of the Pacific Northwest and southeast Alaska, which makes drought worse.

“We are predicting prolonged and widespread drought,” National Weather Service Deputy Director Mary Erickson said. “It’s definitely something we’re watching and very concerned about.”

NOAA expects the spring drought to hit 74 million people.

Is Climate Change to Blame for Worsening Drought?

Several factors go into worsening drought, the agency said. A La Nina cooling of parts of the central Pacific continues to bring dry weather for much of the country, while in the Southwest, heavy summer monsoon rains failed to materialize. Meteorologists also say the California megadrought is associated with long-term climate change.

Thursday’s national Drought Monitor shows almost 66 percent of the nation is in an abnormally dry condition, the highest mid-March level since 2002. And forecasters predict that will worsen, expanding in parts of Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, and South Dakota, with small islands of relief in parts of the Great Lakes and New England.

More than 44 percent of the nation is in moderate or worse drought, and nearly 18 percent is in extreme or exceptional drought — all of it west of the Mississippi River. Climate scientists are calling what’s happening in the West a “megadrought” that started in 1999.

“The nearly West-wide drought is already quite severe in its breadth and intensity, and unfortunately, it doesn’t appear likely that there will be much relief this spring,” said UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain, who writes the Weather West blog. Swain is not part of NOAA’s outlook, but he agrees with the agency’s analysis. “Winter precipitation has been much below average across much of California, and summer precipitation reached record low levels in 2020 across the desert Southwest,” Swain writes.

With the Sierra Nevada snowpack only 60 percent of normal levels, US Department of Agriculture meteorologist Brad Rippey said, “there will be some water cutbacks and allocation cutbacks in California and perhaps other areas of the Southwest” for agriculture and other uses. It will probably hit nut crops in the Golden State.

The dry, warm conditions in the upcoming months likely will bring “an enhanced wildfire season,” said Jon Gottschalck, chief of NOAA’s prediction branch.

Since it is more of a long-term disaster, most people do not fully understand the costs of drought and believe that more immediate weather events like flooding and severe storms are more cause for devastation. However, according to NOAA’s figures assessing all of the weather disasters that have caused over $1billion in damages since 1980, there were 33 floods that have cost about $151 billion. However, there have been 28 droughts that caused nearly $259 billion in damages.

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