Last summer, the U.S. experienced one of the most dramatic and costly droughts since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s with drought conditions stretching from coast to coast. Fast forward one year and the map looks very different – with too much rain now the concern across the East and some of the Midwest. These extreme precipitation swings may be connected, in part, to climate change. A warmer atmosphere creates more evaporation, but then holds more water vapor from that evaporation to enhance heavier rounds of rain and snow. This trend is expected to continue with global warming.
The above graphic (as well as our cool split-screen slider for social media) shows you the contrast in conditions from last August, when 62 percent of the country was in some level of drought to this August, when that number has been reduced to 45 percent. But since these conditions vary greatly from the eastern to western half of the country, we created a second graphic that breaks down that same yearly comparison for your local region (See below).
While a wet spring and summer have reversed drought conditions east of the Mississippi, the outlook isn’t as good across Texas and the West. Drought has expanded and even intensified compared to 2012.
An active monsoon has led to pockets of drought improvement across Arizona and New Mexico, but not enough to break the nearly decade long drought that has dominated the Southwest. This has raised concerns about water supplies with historically low reservoir levels in New Mexico and Nevada. In the Northwest, nearly 63,000 acres have burned in Oregon alone this year, well above their 10-year average. And Texans are visually documenting their statewide drought, now in its third year.
The balance of too little rain to too much rain is playing out through crop yields across the Midwest and East. At this time last year, the USDA rated half of the nation’s corn crop “poor” or “very poor”. In contrast, more than 64 percent is rated as “good” or “excellent” with only 11 percent rated “poor” this year. However, too much rain isn’t good for agriculture either. Across the Southeast, flooded fields have ruined crops and too much water is diluting the sugar system in fruit meaning this year's peach crop in Georgia is plentiful in quantity but not flavor.