Scientists Expect Drought in Western U.S. to Continue Through Spring

The forecast comes as new research demonstrates the significant impact that drought, heatwaves and wildfires have on agriculture across the country.
Nov. 2, 2022
Paolo DeAndreis

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The ongo­ing drought in large sec­tions of the United States is expected to con­tinue, accord­ing to the lat­est report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The NOAA indi­cated that the drought would likely con­tinue in the cen­tral and west­ern U.S. and may expand across the south and south­east of the coun­try.

One rea­son for the per­sis­tent drought is the con­tin­u­a­tion of the La Niña phe­nom­e­non for the third con­sec­u­tive year, result­ing in drier con­di­tions in the south­ern half of the coun­try, includ­ing California.

See Also:California’s Olive Oil Producers Face Uncertain Future as Historic Drought Continues

On the other hand, wet­ter-than-aver­age con­di­tions are expected in the north-cen­tral and north­west­ern regions of the coun­try.

In its newly released win­ter out­look, the NOAA said warmer tem­per­a­tures would be expe­ri­enced in the south­west, along the Gulf Coast and east­ern seaboard.

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La Niña is char­ac­ter­ized by unusu­ally cold ocean tem­per­a­tures in the equa­to­r­ial Pacific. In con­trast, El Niño is char­ac­ter­ized by unusu­ally warm ocean tem­per­a­tures in the same loca­tion.

During a La Niña year, win­ter tem­per­a­tures are warmer than nor­mal in the south­east and cooler than nor­mal in the north­west,” the NOAA said.

However, the impacts of the con­tin­u­a­tion of La Niña on the pop­u­la­tions and agri­cul­ture are grow­ingly sig­nif­i­cant.

Drought con­di­tions are now present across approx­i­mately 59 per­cent of the coun­try, but parts of the west­ern U.S. and south­ern Great Plains will con­tinue to be the hard­est hit this win­ter,” said Jon Gottschalck, chief at the NOOA’s Operational Prediction Branch.

With the La Niña cli­mate pat­tern still in place, drought con­di­tions may also expand to the Gulf Coast,” he added.

The lack of rain­fall has already taken a toll on grain and soy­bean pro­duc­ers in the Midwest. The lack of pre­cip­i­ta­tion has sig­nif­i­cantly low­ered soil mois­ture, pre­sent­ing prob­lems for the cur­rent and future har­vests.

The NOAA report indi­cates that cur­rent drought con­di­tions are the worst since 2012 and will pro­foundly impact sta­ple crops, such as corn, wheat and soy­beans.

See Also:U.S. Provides $1 Billion to Farmers to Fight Climate Change

In the Colorado River basin in the south­west, thou­sands of farm­ers have protested cuts in water avail­abil­ity for irri­ga­tion due to the low river and reser­voir lev­els caused by the drought. Seventy per­cent of Colorado river water usage is tra­di­tion­ally ded­i­cated to agri­cul­ture.

Meanwhile, the megadrought in California also con­tin­ues to dimin­ish water avail­abil­ity for irri­ga­tion. The Public Policy Institute of California said the pro­longed extra­or­di­nary con­di­tions con­tinue to break records that date back to the late 1800s.

For an agri­cul­tural sec­tor worth $50 bil­lion per annum, expec­ta­tions that the drought will con­tinue through the fol­low­ing spring come as wor­ry­ing news.

Furthermore, research pub­lished in Limnology and Oceanography Letters found that the increas­ing num­ber and sever­ity of heat­waves, which affect farm­ing yields, soil con­di­tions and river and stream ecol­ogy, have exac­er­bated the drought.

Separate research on wild­fires found the drought and heat­wave-fueled nat­ural dis­as­ters have more pro­found effects on the broader cli­mate than pre­vi­ously thought.

The study found that heat and aerosols pro­duced dur­ing wild­fires in the west­ern U.S. may increase the inten­sity of storms in the Midwest.

The heat from the wild­fires impacts atmos­pheric pres­sure, gen­er­at­ing wind that blows atmos­pheric mois­ture and other par­ti­cles east­ward, increas­ing rates of pre­cip­i­ta­tion and hail, which could cause sig­nif­i­cant dam­age to crops.

This is the first study where we are really show­ing that wild­fires can have a sig­nif­i­cant impact on the down­stream weather,” Jiwen Fan, a researcher at the energy depart­ment, told The Guardian.

However, he added the research would help develop more accu­rate pre­dic­tive mod­els about severe weather con­di­tions caused by wild­fires in areas far from blazes.



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