With nearly two-thirds of the United States abnormally dry or worse, the government’s spring forecast offers little hope for relief, especially in the West where a devastating megadrought has taken root and worsened.
Weather service and agriculture officials warned of possible water use cutbacks in California and the Southwest, increased wildfires, low levels in key reservoirs such as Lake Mead and Lake Powell and damage to wheat crops.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s official spring outlook Thursday sees an expanding drought with a drier than normal April, May and June for a large swath of the country from Louisiana to Oregon. including some areas hardest hit by the most severe drought. And nearly all of the continental United States is looking at warmer than normal spring, except for tiny parts of the Pacific Northwest and southeast Alaska, which makes drought worse.
“We are predicting prolonged and widespread drought,” National Weather Service Deputy Director Mary Erickson said. “It’s definitely something we’re watching and very concerned about.”
NOAA expects the spring drought to hit 74 million people.
Several factors go into worsening drought, the agency said. A La Nina cooling of parts of the central Pacific continues to bring dry weather for much of the country, while in the Southwest heavy summer monsoon rains failed to materialize. Meteorologists also say the California megadrought is associated with long-term climate change.
Thursday's national Drought Monitor shows almost 66% of the nation is in an abnormally dry condition, the highest mid-March level since 2002. And forecasters predict that will worsen, expanding in parts of Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota, with small islands of relief in parts of the Great Lakes and New England.
More than 44% of the nation is in moderate or worse drought, and nearly 18% is in extreme or exceptional drought — all of it west of the Mississippi River. Climate scientists are calling what’s happening in the West a “megadrought” that started in 1999.