Scientists expect nation’s drought to persist this year

 

McClatchy Newspapers

More than half of the United States remains in drought, although things have improved from the record-breaking conditions last year that killed 123 and added up to at least $35 billion in economic losses, including crop failure and livestock deaths.

At one point in September 2012, two-thirds of the continental United States was suffering from record-breaking drought conditions so severe they restricted navigation on portions of the Mississippi River. About 55 percent of the nation remains in drought conditions now, though the outlook for 2013 isn’t quite as grim as last year.

But drought is expected to persist in the Great Plains and part of the West and could extend into more of California and Florida, said forecasters with the National Integrated Drought Information System as they released a seasonal drought outlook for the nation. They met Thursday in Washington to release climate and water supply forecasts, along with the national wildfire outlook.

Drought, although slower-building and not as dramatic as a tornado, hurricane or earthquake, often ranks just as high in terms of economic losses. It has far-reaching consequences on water supplies, the severity of forest fires, the amount of snow available to skiers, and on crop yields and food prices. President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address cited severe droughts as one of the reasons for acting on climate change.

Texas faces particularly tough conditions – emergency managers there are considering how to transport water to municipal systems that might fail, one speaker said Thursday. They fear they’ll see a second year of farmers abandoning cotton crops in Texas, said Brad Rippey, a meteorologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

There are "very poor" conditions in the snowpack that feeds river systems in the Great Plains, said Mike Strobel of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Reservoirs in Colorado already are low because of last year’s drought.

"Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming . . . that’s where we really need to see some of the snowpack, because that’s where we derive the water that goes into the Platte, the Arkansas and other rivers," Strobel said.

There’s good news too, though. Navigation problems on the Mississippi are expected to ease this year. And there’s what Rippey described as a "wonderful snowstorm" happening this week in the central Plains states. Kansas City, Mo., for example, recorded nearly a foot of snow in some areas by mid-afternoon Thursday.

"That does often happen when we hold drought meetings," Rippey joked. "We should hold them more often."

Government weather forecasters have a new worry, though: sequestration. That’s the $85 billion in mandatory federal spending cuts set to take effect March 1 if Congress and the president can’t agree on an alternative plan to rein in deficits.

Drought monitoring depends on thousands of tiny, independent pieces scattered across the country, including upward of 7,000 stream gauges that monitor water levels and flow in waterways nationwide. They’re paid for by a patchwork of hundreds of different federal, local and state agencies. Already, some states have cut back, Strobel said.

Colorado curtailed some manual inspections that required traveling to remote sites via helicopter, Strobel said. Montana also abandoned the manual monitoring of 39 snowpack measurement sites, he said. Scientists are worried about the accuracy of models that use many decades worth of data to predict future patterns. Some of the places have been monitored for more than a century, he said.

"But you have to look at what you can live without," he said.

Email: ebolstad@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @erikabolstad

Read more Politics Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  • NRA launches $1.3M ad buy for Cotton

    The National Rifle Association says it's launching a $1.3 million television ad campaign to promote Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton's bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, a little over a year after the group ran radio ads defending Pryor's record on guns.

  • US airstrikes target Islamic militants in Iraq

    The Defense Department says the U.S. military on Tuesday pressed its expanded campaign against Islamic State militants with five airstrikes across Iraq.

  •  
In 2012, Alexandra Simin, 25, walks through Jalousie, a mountaintop slum community overlooking Petionville. Untold numbers of former tent dwellers, victims of the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake, have taken up residence in the slum after being apart of a government rental subsidy program. (Patrick Farrell/Miami Herald/MCT)

    Advocates, Florida delegation push immigration program to help rebuild Haiti

    A bipartisan group of members of the House of Representatives – including those from South Florida – is pushing the Obama administration to create an immigration program for Haitians that would accelerate the flow of immigrants from that country and help it recover from a devastating 2010 earthquake.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category