The nation's worst drought in decades is expected to persist and likely intensify across much of the drought-stricken parts of the Plains, Southwest and Rockies over the next several months, federal scientists announced Thursday.
The storm that dumped snow and rain across portions of the central USA this week will help, but much more would be needed to break the drought, said meteorologist David Miskus of the Climate Prediction Center.
"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," according to the National Drought Early Warning Outlook released Thursday.
If the drought continues as forecast, its economic costs could surpass the previous costliest drought in U.S. history, in 1988-89, which cost $40 billion, according to the National Climatic Data Center.
For the spring months of March, April and May, warmer than average conditions are expected for almost the entire USA, Miskus reported, with only the Pacific Northwest and Alaska expected to be cooler-than-average.
As for precipitation, he said that most of the West, Gulf Coast, and Southeast should be drier than average. Only the upper Midwest and around the Great Lakes should see more rain than average.
Other forecasts for spring:
- Wildfires: The main concern area for the next few months is in Florida, reports Jim Douglas of the Bureau of Land Management, due to ongoing very dry conditions across the state. Later in the spring, the area of concern grows in parts of the Southeast and the mid-South.
- Western snowpack: Several basins in Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico show snowpack of less than 50% of average, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service. But in Washington and Oregon, basins along the Cascades have well-above normal snowpack.
- River levels: Although Mississippi River levels have recovered somewhat, "we'll need rain in the spring to avoid another crisis on the Mississippi River," says hydrologist Steve Buan of the North Central River Forecast Center. He adds that "spring and summer rains will be critical, and they'll have to be above normal."
- Crops: If the drought persists, the hard red winter wheat crop, grown on the Great Plains, is at risk for abandonment and yield reductions in the spring, reports meteorologist Brad Rippey of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He says the corn crop, however, is not as dependent on current drought conditions, and could be fine with sufficient summer rains.
Doyle Rice, USA TODAY