NOAA expects drought conditions to persist through spring

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NOAA expects drought conditions to persist through spring

Drought conditions are likely to continue across more than half of the continental United States until at least June, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday, stressing water supplies and increasing the risk of wildfires.

About 60 percent of the continental United States is experiencing drought, the largest portion since 2013, NOAA said in its spring outlook, releasing a comprehensive climate forecast for April, May and June. While these conditions are not new, the agency expects them to worsen and spread due to above-average temperatures and below-average rainfall in the coming months.

This is a turn in the wrong direction after a winter that saw improvement in some drought-hit western states. And while those states are in better shape than they were last summer, some states in the southern plains are in much worse shape.

John Gottschak, chief of the operational branch of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, told reporters Thursday that some patches of the Southwest and Southern Plains are not already experiencing drought — namely those of Arizona, Kansas and Texas. Some parts are expected to start. ,

Lake Powell, one of two huge reservoirs on the Colorado River, fell this week to its lowest level since it was created 50 years ago with the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam. It is approaching the threshold that hydropower generation at the dam will stop.

The forecast is bleak in California, too, with much of the state returning to “severe” or “extreme” drought.

“Snowpack over much of California is below average, and there’s really little time to make up for any rainfall deficits,” said Brad Pugh, Operational Dry Lead for the Climate Prediction Center. With the potential for higher-than-normal temperatures, he said, “it would certainly be a favorable situation, unfortunately, for severe drought in northern and central California during the summer.”

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In the Central Valley, the total three-year rainfall is likely to be the lowest since modern record-keeping began in 1922, said hydrologist Brett Whittin of NOAA’s California Nevada River Forecast Center.

All this increases the risk of wildfires, which have become larger and more frequent in recent years. In the United States, a study published this week by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that from 2005 to 2018, fires occurred twice in western states and four times in Great Plains states compared to the previous two decades. Globally, the most devastating fires will occur with greater regularity as climate change worsens, according to a recent United Nations report.

An underlying factor in the conditions expected by NOAA is La Nia, a climate pattern that developed for the second year in a row in 2021 and is expected to last through the spring. This phenomenon includes changes in sea surface temperature and air pressure in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, which can affect weather patterns around the world and have contributed to the California drought in particular.

La Nia and its counterpart, El Nio, are part of a naturally occurring cycle, but climate change can increase their frequency and intensity.

NOAA also released the Spring Flooding Outlook Thursday, identifying areas at greatest risk along the Red River, which divides Minnesota and North Dakota. (The forecast only identifies areas that are at risk based on underlying factors such as soils saturated with sustained, heavy rainfall; any region can experience flash flooding from a severe storm.)

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