Spring Forecast Predicts Worsening Drought Throughout US

The bright side? Below-average precipitation also means less flooding is likely, especially in the Midwest.

(CN) — National weather forecasters provided an outlook on the spring’s weather picture Thursday that contained positives and negatives for the United States.

On the positive side, forecasters believe there is no major flooding on tap for the spring season for the first time in three years. 

The bad news is that the same lack of precipitation that will forestall flooding will also contribute to a widening drought in the American West

“One-half of the country is experiencing moderate to exceptional drought,” said Jon Gottschalck with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Prediction Center. “The southwestern United States, in particular, is experiencing its worst drought since 2013.”

The monsoon season in the American Southwest, which typically runs from mid-June through September, failed to materialize in 2020. This exacerbated already dry conditions in the region, Gottschalck said.

There is no immediate relief in sight for the region as it must wait until the summer in hopes of a return of the monsoon.

Forecasters said the drought is going to expand around the United States, including the lower two-thirds of the Florida peninsula. And the dry conditions will cause water supply problems across the American West, the forecasters said.  

“Water supply is expected to be below to much below normal in the Southwest, southern Oregon and Idaho,” Gottschalck said. “The Rocky Mountains may be in for a drought too.”

Water managers in California have already warned residents, businesses and farmers that the coming summer may come with smaller allocations and some restrictions. 

Paul Miller, a hydrologist with the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center, said stakeholders are concerned about inflows from the Colorado River into the reservoirs that are responsible for distributing water to many of the major cities in the American Southwest. 

“Many of our reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Meade in particular, are at really low levels,” Miller said. 

David Miskus, who monitors drought conditions for NOAA, said even portions of the Great Plains may be in for below-average rainfall and above-average temperatures, which could harm agricultural production in the nation’s breadbasket. 

“If the rains are timely enough we could still be OK in terms of agricultural production and the rangeland,” Miskus said. “If not, as much as 78% of the spring wheat area could be in drought.”

The forecast comes on the same day the United Nations published a report finding the increasing frequency of natural disasters like flooding, droughts and fires caused by climate change is stressing agricultural systems across the globe. 

“At no other point in history have agri-food systems faced more hazards such as mega fires, extreme weather, unusually large desert locust swarms, and emerging biological threats, as during the past year of the Covid-19 pandemic,” the UN said Thursday. “Nor have they been seen at such frequency, intensity and complexity.”

Nevertheless, forecasters are heartened by the lack of flooding predicted in the forecast, particularly after regions of the Midwest saw record-breaking floods in recent years. 

“Minor flooding is expected in some areas and flash floods are always possible,” said Mary Erickson, deputy director at NOAA. 

Edward Clark, the director of the National Water Center, did say the springtime could bring landslides in the areas of burn scars created by recent wildfires.

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