U.S. drought may improve slightly while warmer weather arrives

March 21, 2013 08:56 AM

Drought may persist from California to Texas while improving slightly in the Great Plains as temperatures soar above normal across most of the U.S. from April through June, the Climate Prediction Center said.

The worst of the drought, an “exceptional” dryness that currently stretches across parts of the Plains from South Dakota to Oklahoma, may lessen by one level on a four-step scale, according to the seasonal forecast by the center in College Park, Maryland.

“The term ‘improvement’ means a reduction of at least one category,” said Ed O’Lenic, chief of the center’s climate operations branch. “It doesn’t mean the drought is going to away.”

While the next few weeks are expected to be cooler than normal across the eastern U.S., temperatures will rise by mid- April, according to the center.

“We are experiencing a very unusual cold pattern,” O’Lenic said. “As the sun gets higher in the sky, that has to stop.”

Drought gripped 51.9% of the contiguous 48 states in the week ended March 19, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor in Lincoln, Nebraska. The two worst categories cover 16.9% of the area, up from 16.5% last week.

U.S. Drought

Last summer’s dryness across the Midwest and Great Plains was the worst since the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s, responsible for livestock losses brought on by feed shortages and shipping restrictions caused by low channels in the Missouri, Mississippi and Ohio rivers. It also meant a record payout on crop insurance, with farmers collecting $14.7 billion as of Feb. 18, according to the Agriculture Department.

“The deficits in the soil are very large and it’s very unlikely that seasonal precipitation will ameliorate them,” O’Lenic said today on a conference call with reporters.

The Midwest and Great Lakes may experience above-average rainfall from April through June, according to the center. The area from California through Texas and along the U.S. Gulf Coast may experience below-normal rain.

The upper Great Plains has an above-average snowpack from recent storms, and that will probably start to melt in the next few weeks. There’s a significant flood risk for the Red River of the North, which flows through Fargo, North Dakota, said Laura Furgione, deputy director of the National Weather Service.

Flood Outlook

The area around Devil’s Lake, North Dakota, may have flood waters across about 20,000 acres of farmland, Furgione said. The snow may also contribute to minor flooding along the upper Mississippi River.

There is a high probability that temperatures from Nevada to the Atlantic Coast will be higher than the 30-year average, according to the center. The best chances are in New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana in the south and upstate New York and northern New England in the east.

Warmer-than-normal weather can increase the amount of energy needed to cool homes and businesses as the Northern Hemisphere summer, defined by meteorologists as starting on June 1, arrives.

Bloomberg News

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