Saturday, July 21, 2012

Record breaking expanse of drought across US

46.84 percent of the US land area is in various stages of drought, up from 42.8 percent a week ago. Previous records were 45.87 percent in drought on Aug. 26, 2003, and 45.64 percent on Sept. 10, 2002.


Looking only at the 48 contiguous states, 55.96 percent of the country’s land area is in moderate drought or worse – also the highest percentage on record in that regard, officials said. The previous highs had been 54.79 percent on Aug. 26, 2003, and 54.63 percent on Sept. 10, 2002.

“The recent heat and dryness is catching up with us on a national scale,” said Michael J. Hayes, director of the National Drought Mitigation Center at UNL. “Now, we have a larger section of the country in these lesser categories of drought than we’ve previously experienced in the history of the Drought Monitor.”

The monitor uses a ranking system that begins at D0 (abnormal dryness) and moves through D1 (moderate drought), D2 (severe drought), D3 (extreme drought) and D4 (exceptional drought).


Moderate drought’s telltale signs are some damage to crops and pastures, with streams, reservoirs or wells getting low. At the other end of the scale, exceptional drought includes widespread crop and pasture losses, as well as shortages of water in reservoirs, streams and wells, creating water emergencies. So far, just 8.64 percent of the country is in either extreme or exceptional drought.

“During 2002 and 2003, there were several very significant droughts taking place that had a much greater areal coverage of the more severe and extreme drought categories,” Hayes said. “Right now we are seeing pockets of more severe drought, but it is spread out over different parts of the country.

“It’s early in the season, though. The potential development is something we will be watching.”

Extreme drought reported for Alabama and Arkansas

The abnormally dry conditions gripping Alabama now cover more than 90 percent of the state. An analysis released Thursday, July 5, 2012 by the U.S. Drought Monitor shows southwest Alabama is the only section of the state that’s not experiencing a large rainfall deficit.

The situation is worst in eastern Alabama, where all but a few counties are in a severe or extreme drought. Arid conditions are classified as exceptionally bad in parts of Barbour and Henry counties in the state’s southeastern corner. In all, about 91 percent of the state is either abnormally dry or in a full-blown drought.

Forestry officials say there’s an increased threat of wildfires because of the dry conditions, and farmers are having on irrigation to sustain crops in many areas.

The latest drought report says more than a third of Arkansas is in extreme drought conditions. The U.S. Drought Monitor report says all of Arkansas is undergoing drought conditions.

A handful of counties are experiencing moderate drought conditions, but most of Arkansas is either in severe or extreme drought. Northern counties from Carroll to Clay and extending south to Jackson are in extreme drought, as is southwest Arkansas.

A pocket of north central Arkansas counties from Franklin to Conway and Van Buren counties is also classified as extreme. The National Weather Service says rain is possible this weekend and early next week, but it will likely have little impact on the drought conditions.

Next several days in US

In general, July 4 – 8, 2012 doesn’t look promising in terms of relief, though the intense heat should subside somewhat. One area that could see relief would be from the central and southern Rockies into the northern Plains, much of which is forecast to receive over an inch of rain. Totals near or above 2 inches are expected in the central Dakotas. One to perhaps 3 inches are also anticipated along and near the central Gulf Coast.

Elsewhere, light rain at best is expected, with little or none forecast for the lower Northeast, the mid-Atlantic region, the upper Southeast, the Ohio Valley, much of the Mississippi Valley, and the central and southern Plains. Seasonably dry weather is expected in the West.

Modest improvement is forecast for most areas that have endured the recent heat wave, but most locations from the Plains eastward are still expected to be warmer than normal. Temperatures could average over 6 degrees above normal from the mid-Atlantic region westward through the Tennessee and Ohio Valleys to near the Mississippi River.

The ensuing 5 days (July 9 – 13, 2012) bring enhanced chances for below-normal rainfall from the Tennessee and middle Mississippi Valleys northward through the Appalachians, Great Lakes, and northern Great Plains. In contrast, the odds favor above-normal rainfall along and near the southern half of the Atlantic Coast and in the southern halves of the High Plains and Rockies. Below-normal temperatures are expected to settle into the Northeast, but continued above-normal temperatures are anticipated in the southern halves of the Mississippi Valley and eastern Plains, and from the northern Plains, the central Rockies, and the desert Southwest westward to near the Pacific Coast.