NewsApril 4, 2013

Another Summer of Drought Looms for Texas and West

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Daniel Yawitz

By Daniel Yawitz

The outlook for the western half of the U.S. continued to be bleak on Thursday, as forecasters said drought conditions are expected to expand and intensify all across the West and Southwest.

And Texas, which has been in the throes of drought for the better part of two years, may be hardest hit as its bone-dry conditions are expected to continue into summer, leading to shortages of drinking water.

Seasonal Drought Outook, April 4, 2013.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: NOAA

An update to the Seasonal Drought Outlook released Thursday forecasts drought to intensify in southern and western Texas between now and June, thanks to a prevailing weather pattern that will bring a combination of above-average temperatures and below-average precipitation. The latest U.S. Drought Monitor, also released on Thursday, found that 88 percent of the “Lone Star State” is under some form of drought, with the worst impacts concentrated in southern Texas and the Texas panhandle. (Heavy rains fell in southeastern Texas during this week, but this occurred too late to be included in the Drought Monitor report.)

Drought conditions are also expected to worsen across the West and Southwest, where below-average winter snowfall has combined with low water supplies left over from 2012's bone dry summer to raise water supply concerns in states such as Colorado and New Mexico. 

January to February precipitation in California during the 1895-2012 period, with the arrow pointing to the 2013 record low.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: NOAA/NCDC.

Drought has expanded significantly in California and Southern Oregon over the past three weeks, and time may be running short to avert a major year-long drought. 

Precipitation in California during January and February hit record-low levels, and that has left all of the state in abnormally dry conditions. That dryness is expected to worsen since rainfall in California usually declines rapidly in the spring, In addition, this year’s lack of precipitation has left a light snowpack in the mountains, giving the state little water to feed its reservoirs as temperatures begin to rise. 

The thin snow pack remains a serious concern across the Rocky Mountains, where the snow pack is between 70-90 percent of its normal levels, leading to worries that this spring’s snowmelt will not be enough to replenish the water deficits that began last year.

Daily soil moisture anomaly, March 31, 2013. The dark red shows the below average soil moisture across Texas, the High Plains, Florida and California.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: NOAA

The Drought Outlook called for improvements across the Midwest, and possible improvements across the Northern and Central plains, which have already seen some rain this spring. Relief may be bolstered by this winter’s snowpack in the northern part of the U.S.

Drought expanded slightly in central Florida this week, and that dryness led to the outbreak of a few isolated wildfires. However, those effects are expected to be short-lived, since Florida’s rainy season begins in June.

The cold temperatures that have clung to the central and eastern part of the country over the past several weeks may prove beneficial to drought relief. The cold spring temperatures are letting the snowpack melt slowly away and replenish the soil, rather than evaporating, as it did during the record warm March of 2012. That quick melt, which was accompanied by record heat, played a significant role in last year’s drought.

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