WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The nation’s triple digit heat wave — which hit its 34th day on Friday — could last until the end of August, while extensive drought in and around Texas may last into October, forecasters said.
The deadly heat event that has broken numerous records has left the southern plains and Mississippi Valley struggling to meet demand for power and water and has cost billions in impact on crops and livestock.
“Many more days of triple-digit heat are on deck as iron-clad high pressure at most levels of the atmosphere continues to squat over the south-central U.S.,” Accuweather.com’s senior meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said.
The severe heat is just one part of a compounded climatic problem, an expert from the National Weather Service said.
Last year’s La Nina, the weather event that left equatorial sea surface temperatures in the central Pacific two to four degrees Fahrenheit cooler, triggered this year’s exceptional drought.
Normally, La Nina causes a 10 percent drop in precipitation.
Since January, the state of Texas, where the drought is anchored, has only had 40 percent of normal rain fall, NWS climate specialist Victor Murphy said.
Heavy rains fell in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Friday afternoon, with flash floods wreaking several hours of havoc and prompting fire department rescues of people trapped in their homes and cars.
Captain Rob Brisley said the city’s fire department responded to more than 80 weather-related calls in three hours, including reports of lightning strikes, downed power lines and flooding emergencies.
At least 10 people were taken out their homes by boat as rising waters threatened a neighborhood northwest of downtown, and homes west of downtown also were evacuated, Brisley said.
Rain also slightly cooled the Tennessee River, allowing the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Browns Ferry nuclear power plant in Decatur, Alabama to begin ramping up production.
The heat had raised the river’s temperature to higher than 90 degrees and forced a severe cutback in the energy supplied by the plant, which uses the river water to cool the reactors.
“On Wednesday, we had three units operating at 50 percent power. Today we have one unit at 75 percent, two at 70 percent,” TVA spokesman Ray Golden said.
Drought now affects over a million square miles of the lower 48 states, or 32 percent, according to the Weather Channel. The most extreme cases of “exceptional” drought stretch from Arizona to Louisiana and parts of Georgia, covering almost 11 percent of the lower 48 states.
The resulting lack of ground moisture prevents clouds from developing in the low level atmosphere, making daytime showers near impossible.
That problem combined with a persistent dome of high pressure, the climatic conditions are not likely to change.
“It’s a feedback process which just keeps on going, feeding on itself,” Murphy told Reuters by phone.
“Drought begets heat, heat begets drought. That’s how we’ve been since May,” he said.
The NWS drought outlook released on Thursday reported that in Texas, Oklahoma and parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kansas, and New Mexico, the drought will persist or intensify until the end of October.
The region has felt the impact of the several months of severe weather acutely. Wildfires in April and May burned over 3 million acres and the agriculture and livestock industries have seen a preliminary impact of $6 to $8 billion, Murphy said.
Water scarcity will likely be this next pressing issue. Images of cracking lakebeds and water turn blood-red from bacterial growth have filled weather reports in recent days.
“Barring a tropical cyclone, we are forecasted to stay the same as we are,” Murphy said.
The hurricane season is likely to bring relief to Southeastern states such as Georgia, Alabama, Florida and the Carolinas.
The Climate Predication Center, a division of NWS, said on Thursday that the hurricane season would be more likely to be an above average one, notching up their outlook for tropical storms to 14-19 from 12-18 and the number of hurricanes to 7-10 from 6-10.
Despite the heat, high school football practices continue as coaches keep a weary eye on players.
Pre-season practices, which are often seen as a rite of passage in the South, may have already claimed the lives of two Georgia players as well as a coach in Texas who had a heart condition.
A 14-year-old football player who collapsed after practice in South Carolina last week died of complications stemming from sickle cell anemia, a coroner ruled on Friday.
Heat is suspected of playing a major role in the deaths of a 79-year-old mother and her 60-year-old son, whose bodies were found Thursday in their home that lacked air-conditioning, Nashville police said on Friday.
The mother and son had heart issues and had been dead two weeks, police said.
Additional reporting by Tim Ghianni, Harriet McLeod and Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Jerry Norton