Winter Storm Most Costly Ever as Drought Expands in the West

The aftermath of the brutal winter weather that struck Texas and other southern states is crystalizing as costs will exceed $10 billion; meanwhile, drought is expanding in the American West, where nearly a fifth of the entire territory is under the worst category of drought. 

A truck drives past a highway sign Feb. 15, in Houston. A frigid blast of winter weather across the U.S. plunged Texas into an unusually icy emergency that knocked out power to more than 2 million people and shut down grocery stores and dangerously snowy roads. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

(CN) — The winter storm that choked power from much of Texas while killing at least 136 people will preliminarily cost the United States more than $10 billion, making it the most costly winter storm in U.S. history, according to a report released Thursday by the National Centers for Environmental Information. 

While Texas was the epicenter of the winter storm, more than a dozen other states also sustained costly damage to their infrastructure. 

Despite this cold snap that persisted into spring, March temperatures were above average throughout the contiguous United States, falling in the upper third of the 127-year old record. 

Above-average temperatures were observed from the Northwest to the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico and into the Northeast,” the report states. “Temperatures across North Dakota were the fourth warmest on record.”

Nevertheless, below-average temperatures persisted throughout much of the West Coast during March and Alaska experienced one of its coldest Marches on record. 

“On average, the coldest departures from average occurred across south-central Alaska while much of the North Slope was near average,” the report states. “Bering Sea ice extent was 81 percent of average for March, which contributed to above-average temperatures across the Aleutians.”

While cooler temperatures in the winter and spring bode well for the western half of the United States, the precipitation outlook in the region remains grave. 

Below-average precipitation was present throughout much of the United States, although Nebraska had its second wettest March on record and the center of the country received favorable rains. 

But the American West continues to struggle with a lack of snow and rain. 

The U.S. Drought Monitor released a report Thursday that shows moderate to exceptional drought currently covers more than a third of the nation (37%), which affects about 154 million people, or nearly half the country’s population. 

More alarming, the worst category of drought continues to expand, with extreme to exceptional drought expanding by 1.3 percentage points from last week to cover 16.9% of the country. 

The worst of the drought is currently centered in the American Southwest, as Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah all boast significant swathes of territory in the worst category of drought. 

But Montana, Oregon, Texas and California all continue to grapple with droughts of varying degrees of intensity. 

“Extreme drought expanded in eastern Montana and southern California,” the report states. “An area of exceptional drought developed in south-central Oregon. Extreme and exceptional drought persists in California, Nevada, and the Four Corners states.”

California remains hobbled by a dry winter. 

About 99% of the state is in some category of drought and at least two-thrids of the state is mired in at least severe drought. 

Exceptional drought, the most severe category devised by the U.S. Drought Monitor, currently covers 5% of the state, mostly in a corridor in the southeast portion. 

Extreme drought, the second-worst category, covers about 35% of the state and is present in both the southern and northern reaches of the state. 

For the American West generally, which includes the three coastal states, Idaho, Montana and the Four Corners states, approximately 90% of the entire territory is covered by some form of drought. 

Exceptional drought covers about one-fifth of the region. 

“Dry conditions and warmer than normal temperatures continued in the West with many locations setting daily record high temperatures,” the report states. “The overall effect was a general deterioration of conditions across the Lower 48 as moisture deficits continued to build in the West and in locations in the eastern half of the country that missed out on the heaviest rainfall.”

%d bloggers like this: