US drought to spread in California, Florida, government forecasts

Thu Feb 21, 2013 6:12pm EST

Related Topics

* California missing out on typical February rains

* Eastern Corn Belt moisture conditions improving

* Interagency group sees prospects for warmer than normal summer

By Environment Correspondent Deborah Zabarenko

WASHINGTON, Feb 21 (Reuters) - The historic U.S. drought of 2012 could spread this spring to more of California and southern Florida, balancing improvement expected in the upper Midwest and parts of the South, government climate and agriculture experts said on Thursday.

They also projected a warmer-than-normal summer over almost the entire United States, except for the extreme northern Plains and Rocky Mountain states and along the Pacific Coast. Even northern Alaska is expected to see above-normal temperatures.

These forecasts were part of the National Drought Early Warning Outlook produced by groups that included the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Weather Service, USDA and other agencies.

California has the greatest chance of abnormally dry weather, said David Miskus, a seasonal forecaster at the Climate Prediction Center, part of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,

Parts of California were just beginning to recover from drought at the end of last year, Miskus said. The northern half of the state had been mostly drought-free of late but now a drought seems likely to develop.

"They started out so well, in November and December they had really good strong rains, they had good snow packs in the Sierra Nevadas," Miskus told Reuters after the outlook's unveiling. By February, however, conditions were dry, and this is typically California's wettest month, he said.

Last year's drought is second only to the Dust Bowl year of 1934 as the one with the most widespread and severe dry conditions in the United States. And 67 percent of the contiguous United States are dryer than normal, and some places are still experiencing exceptional drought.

"The 2012/2013 drought has serious implications for agriculture, navigation, recreation and municipal water supplies, costing the nation at least $35 billion in economic losses," the drought outlook said.

This long-running drought is causing "imminent concern" for the winter wheat crop from South Dakota to Texas, said Brad Rippey, an agricultural meteorologist at the Agriculture Department's Office of the Chief Economist.

A major snowstorm now hitting the Plains states will bring much-needed moisture but might not be enough, Rippey said.

"Certainly this storm will help, and it buys us some time, but it's the type of (weather) pattern we would need to sustain all the way up until harvest to really make a good hard red winter wheat crop," Rippey said. Typically, winter wheat is harvested from May through July.

Another drought-driven problem is poor pasture and range conditions for livestock. Because it has been so dry, there is scant natural feed for animals, Rippey said.

"More than 80 percent of pasture and range was rated very poor to poor in Kansas and Oklahoma, and it will take more than one storm to bring the range and pasture back," he said in a telephone interview.

However, there has been significant recovery from drought in the eastern corn belt - including much of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois - and there is a good chance for improvement in the upper Midwest as well, Rippey said.

Also on Thursday, USDA's chief economist forecast record U.S. corn and soybean crops this year, in part because of improved conditions in key states like Illinois.

"We have already seen some improvement in the eastern Corn Belt," USDA's Joseph Glauber said at the agency's annual agricultural outlook meeting.

The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook is available online here (Reporting By Deborah Zabarenko; editing by Ros Krasny and Cynthia Osterman)

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Comments (4)
larry1dart wrote:
I just looked at the reservoir levels for California and almost all of them are above the historical average for this time of year. In California, during the summer months, we depend on the reservoirs for water as well as the rivers. I don’t actually believe there is a drought or a shortage of water and we have had some pretty good rains this month as well. Funny how there is plenty of water as long as you pay enough for it.

Feb 21, 2013 7:09pm EST  --  Report as abuse
runonsnow wrote:
Larry, I live in Norther CA in the Sierra Nevada. My dad is a farmer in the valley. You’re right that the lakes and reservoirs are full. But that was from snow pack 2 years ago. I’m a snowshoer. Last year, I was able (due to snow levels) to get out one time. Just about every snowshoe race & XC ski race in northern CA was cancelled. There was snow at the ski hills as they can make it. This year the snow levels are better, but I’m already seeing earth around the trees. On our big snow years (I live near Mt Lassen)and next to a reservoir) it can be mid to late July before you can drive out in the forest. At this rate, we’ll be able to get out next month! Even with another big storm the day time temps seem too warm to maintain the snow. A big snowpack with slow melt builds the water tables & releases the water slowly into the reservoirs. Lack of snow in these past 2 years means that as the reservoir water is used there will be no water to replace it! This isn’t a conspiracy!

Also, I get out deep into the woods every summer & this was the first summer in 5 years that I saw springs dry up that I had never seen dry before. That’s why you need the snow pack

Feb 21, 2013 9:42pm EST  --  Report as abuse
JeSter1975 wrote:
anyone hear of poison skies? Why is the goverment destroying rain fall?

Feb 22, 2013 1:08am EST  --  Report as abuse
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