NewsFebruary 14, 2013

Good News, Bad News Continues for Drought Across U.S.

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Daniel Yawitz

By Daniel Yawitz

Thursday’s release of the latest U.S. Drought Monitor brought slivers of good news for some parts of the continental U.S., while more bad news for other regions.

Storms that swept across the Southeast over the past week made a significant dent in drought conditions, eradicating the areas of “exceptional” drought — the worst category. Those rains also led to significant reductions in areas of extreme, severe, and moderate drought across Alabama and North Carolina. And for the first time in more than a year, zero percent of Georgia was suffering from exceptional drought.

Click image to enlarge. Credit: NOAA/USDA.

However, at the same time, drought expanded into southern Florida, and continued to persist across the rest of the county.

“The good thing about these types of rain events is that they were prolonged,” said Bill Murphey, the Georgia State Climatologist, “Over the last seven days, South Central Georgia received 8 to 10 inches. In the Macon area, the core of the D4 area (exceptional drought), and that helped a lot. Still, there’s a good bit of D3 (extreme drought), but the main thing is this rainfall helped ground water and stream flow conditions, as well as help recharge some of the soil moisture.”

The same storms that brought much needed rain to the Southeast and Gulf Coast states also spawned severe thunderstorms, high wind and hail events, and at least 19 tornadoes, according to the Storm Prediction Center. The heavy, prolonged rains also led to flash flooding in some areas.

In much of the rest of the country, drought conditions remain dire. More than 55 percent of the lower 48 states are still under moderate drought conditions or worse, with the most severe impacts spread across the South, Great Plains and West. However, a few significant improvements were made.

Out West, improved snowpack brought single-category improvements to the Four Corners region and the Rocky Mountains. Small, positive changes were also recorded to areas of exceptional, severe and moderate drought across the eastern parts of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, although areas of dryness did expand in the western parts of those states.

A record-setting winter storm blanketed the Northeast with more than 30 inches of snow last weekend. While it brought more precipitation than was welcome to parts of New England, it just missed the area of abnormal dryness in northern New York and New Hampshire.

In Georgia, more storms are on tap for the coming week, but what will happen further down the road remains less certain. A Seasonal Drought Outlook released last week called for drought to persist in the Southeast areas of Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina, and to develop further south, into the Florida Peninsula. There is currently no strong signal from either El Nino or La Nina, and those neutral conditions can make climate forecasting more difficult.

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