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Environment

Despite Winter Storms, Drought Continues Largely Unabated

ImaGeo iconImaGeoBy Tom YulsmanMarch 7, 2013 11:26 PM
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Drought continued largely unabated across large swaths of the country during the past week. And as this animation shows, there has been very little improvement over the past six weeks. (Source: http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/) Winter Storm Saturn may have dumped more than six inches of snow across 14 states this past week, but the weekly U.S. drought report published today shows little improvement overall for the large portions of the country suffering badly from lack of moisture. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, nearly 53 percent of the country is in moderate to exceptional drought today — a drop of less than 1 percent since last week. The animated map above shows the evolution of drought conditions across large parts of the United States over the past six weeks. If you squint at it, you may be able to see some improvement over that period. But barely. There's been about a 4 percent drop in drought area since January 29. This graph shows the expansion in the percentage of the country in drought from June of 2010 to the present:

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The extent of dry to exceptional drought conditions over time in the contiguous United States, from June 2010 to the present. The colors mean the following: Yellow = abnormally dry; light brown = moderate drought; darker brown = severe drought; red = extreme drought; darkest color = exceptional drought. (Source: http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/archive.html) Over the past week, winter storms have brought some desperately needed snow to the Central and Northern Rockies, but they've mostly missed the southern Rockies. And despite the recent storms, snowpack through much of the region remains low — exceptionally so in some parts of Colorado and New Mexico. California also continues to suffer from desperately low snowpack — a subject I wrote about last week here. The Great Plains are still suffering too, particularly in Texas, where February was drier than January. "The reservoir situation continues to be poor—while the eastern half of the state is comparatively well-off, west Texas continues to suffer, contributing to the persisting record-low reservoir conservation storage," according to today's Drought Monitor report. "Southern Texas was especially dry, with single digit relative humidity values and high winds prompting an expansion of all drought categories across this region." In the Southeast, recent rains in George and South Carolina have led to some improvement. But large portions of the region are still dry.

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The drought forecast through May 31. (Source: http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/expert_assessment/seasonal_drought.html) As the map above indicates, we shouldn't expect a lot of improvement over the next three months. Particularly in the West, things could get very interesting as what little snowpack exists melts out, and the weather heats up...

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