U.S. Drought Intensifies in Texas and Florida

Drought expanded in two key areas of the country last week – Florida and West Texas – where several weeks of low rainfall have allowed already dry conditions to intensify, according to an update to the U.S. Drought Monitor released Thursday.

While much of the East Coast has seen heavy precipitation over the past two weeks, very little of that has extended into the Florida peninsula. According to the Drought Monitor, “abnormal dryness” pushed into all of southern Florida, while conditions of “severe drought” expanded in the eastern and central parts of the state. Meanwhile, relatively wet conditions in the Florida Panhandle have kept the northwestern part of the state out of drought.

Credit: National Drought Mitigation Center

Although this is the climatological dry season for Florida, the current level of dryness is more intense than in normal years. Since Nov. 1, 2012, Daytona Beach has received just a little more than 40 percent of its normal rainfall, making it the 7th driest period in 80 years.

The past several weeks saw the drought in Texas intensify as well, which is a troubling sign moving into spring. Texas typically receives little widespread, steady precipitation during the spring and summer months and relies on the rains from the fall and winter to carry it through the year. Most of Texas has been under drought conditions since the summer of 2011, and that prolonged aridity has left reservoir levels across the state at record low levels, leaving the state vulnerable to water shortages and restrictions if conditions do not improve.

According to the office of the Texas state climatologist, the month of February was drier than the month of January, and during the first week of March, low humidity and high winds have led to the expansion of drought in all categories of drought statewide.

According to the latest drought outlook, also released on Thursday, drought is forecast to develop and persist in both Texas and Florida this spring, but also may expand in the West and intensify in California and southern Oregon. The normal wet season in California begins to wind down in March, and precipitation is usually scarce by May. Parts of the West have already had well below normal amounts of precipitation for the winter season, and if that trend continues through spring, the drought could intensify significantly.

NOAA also expects drought conditions to improve in the Southeast and Midwest, which have seen several storms in the past few weeks and are expected to see even more in the short term. 

Nationwide, the footprint of the drought shrank slightly this week to 53.34 percent of the continental U.S., down from 54.17 percent last week. The improvements were small and scattered. The most significant of these were in the Southeast, where rains continued to bring relief to long-suffering Georgia and South Carolina, and in the Rocky Mountains, where winter storms brought relief to areas of Colorado, Idaho and Utah. A major snowstorm also increased the depth of the snowpack across parts of the Midwest between Missouri and Illinois, but the relief that precipitation can bring to the water table won’t be felt until the ground begins to thaw and absorb the snowmelt.

The widespread severe to “exceptional” drought conditions in parts of the Plains states have continued, although several storms have chipped away at the edges of the hardest hit areas of Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska.

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