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U-S Drought: Mega Disaster Unfolding

Posted by feww on January 24, 2011

Persistent Drought Plaguing Southern U.S.

Persistent drought conditions to linger in the Southern Plains and Southeast US

Persistent drought conditions are forecast to continue in the Southern Plains and Southeast US through mid to late spring, NOAA’s National Weather Service says. “La Niña has kept storms and most of their precipitation in the north, leaving the South drier than normal.”

US Drought Conditions Growing Like Cancer from the South and Southeast.

“The speed with which the drought developed across the southern United States is rather unusual considering that just last year El Niño dominated the region with abundant precipitation,” said Bill Proenza, director of NOAA’s National Weather Service southern region.“ Then it was as if a switch was flipped during the summer, changing to La Niña conditions.”

Fear of Wildfires

Fearing wildfires, Gov Rick Perry issued a disaster proclamation for 244 counties (all but 10 of Texas counties),  because of the ongoing severe drought in December, as Texas experienced its driest November to December in half a century last year.

“Drought conditions, as Texas is experiencing its driest November to December in about 50 years, can combine with low humidity and gusty winds to produce the wildfires, said Mahlon Hammetter, a fire prevention specialist with the Texas Forest Service.”

Earlier in December, lingering drought had forced USDA to declare natural disaster in 10 counties in South Carolina and 36 in Louisiana.  because of persistent drought. “Counties along the Arkansas state line in Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas were declared secondary disaster areas,” a report said.

Although the drought persists in all of the Gulf Coast states, NOAA says, Texas and Florida are the worst affected. “From October through December, Texas received only five to 50 percent of normal precipitation, with portions of the lower Rio Grande averaging less than five percent of normal. During that period, for example, Brownsville received only 0.14 inches (normal is 6.55 inches) and Del Rio received 0.04 inch (normal is 3.89 inches). To the north in Austin, only 1.55 inches of rainfall was observed, compared to the normal of 8.34 inches.”

At least 42,000 fires consumed more than 775,000 acres throughout the affected southern region during 2010.

“Florida lost more than 400,000 acres to wildfires last year, with more predicted to come. Florida’s Forestry Division notes La Niña is expected to continue at least through spring and again anticipates greater than normal wildfire activity in 2011.”

Impact of  La Niña

A combination of scarce tropical precipitation and the dry conditions brought by La Niña created severe to extreme drought conditions for about a third of the South and Southeast regions by late fall and early winter 2010, NOAA said.

La Niña conditions have occurred 13 times in the past 60 years, with the current La Niña being the 6th strongest, so far. However, climate experts are unable to predict whether it will continue into 2012.

It probably will!

La Niña on Dec. 29, 2010

The La Niña is highlighted by the large pool of blue and purple (cooler than normal) water stretching from the eastern to the central Pacific Ocean, reflecting lower than normal sea surface heights.  Click images to enlarge.

Original Caption: The current state of this season’s La Nina is shown in this Ocean Surface Topography Mission (OSTM)/Jason-2 satellite image of the Pacific Ocean, based on the average of 10 days of data centered on Dec. 26, 2010. The new image depicts places where the Pacific sea-surface height is higher (warmer) than normal as yellow and red, while places where the sea surface is lower (cooler) than normal are shown in blue and purple. Green indicates near-normal conditions. Sea-surface height is an indicator of how much of the sun’s heat is stored in the upper ocean. The La Nina cool waters stretch from the eastern to the central Pacific Ocean. Image credit: NASA JPL Ocean Surface Topography Team.

Sea Surface Height Anomaly (SSHA)

Sea surface height anomaly (SSHA) measurements from the Jason-1 and Jason-2 satellite altimeter missions. Note the two main areas of anomaly across the equatorial Pacific. La Nina lingers on as ENSO continues to drive pools of warm surface water to the west.

Global SST Anomaly Chart January 24, 2011

Click image to update and enlarge.

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