Drought becoming a concern across parts of the U.S. and Canada

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Officially, we’re more than halfway through the winter season, and many are hearing that the “winter is about over.” We’re coming into the middle of February, and Cliff and I keep saying that it’s not the right time to take off those snow tires. We’ve had several periods of snowless weather over the last few months, but climatology tells us that warm periods in the winter months are sometimes followed by cold and snowy ones. That happened in February of 2015, when record warmth was followed by 6 inches of snow.

Last Wednesday, we had a record high of 58 degrees, breaking the old mark of 57 degrees on 2015. We’ve been saying that the mid to late February time-frame is looking more favorable for colder temperatures and the possibility for snow. As I said last week’s column, Cliff and I believe that some of that cold air to our east may eventually “back up” and combine with Pacific moisture and bring us a chance of snow. As of early Sunday, it looks like we’ll see some of that white stuff by the middle of the week and again later in the weekend.

Without question, this has been a very unusual winter season across the Inland Northwest. It’s also been one of the coldest east of the Rockies. We’re not giving up on the snow in this area, but if this new pattern doesn’t evolve soon, then all the forecasters predicting an early end to this winter season will probably be right, but we’ll see.

Despite the recent lack of snowfall, moisture totals across the Northwest have been very good. There is no concern for the lack of water in this part of the world. However, drought is becoming more of an issue across other parts of the U.S. and around the globe.

The new U.S. Drought Monitor has shown a large expansion of drought from California eastward into the Great Plains and the southern sections of the Midwest. And, it’s not just the U.S. that’s experiencing this dry weather pattern. Drought has also been affecting the wheat regions in parts of Mexico and through central portions of the prairie provinces of Canada.

For example, the southern sections of Alberta and Saskatchewan are currently in severe to extreme drought conditions as less than 40 percent of moisture has been seen since late last year. With very little snowfall on the ground in south-central Canada and the north-central U.S. last month, their winter wheat crop likely had damage from the frigid outbreaks as temperatures were dropping down to minus 20 degrees.

The western sections of the U.S. Great Plains from western Nebraska into the Texas Panhandle have received less than 15 percent of normal precipitation within the last 3 months. Some of our clients in western Nebraska have not seen any significant rainfall since last October.

In addition to the dryness, gusty winds have also been reported in the wheat-growing areas in the central U.S. Farmers have reported that some of the wheat has “been ripped out of the fields” from persistent strong winds earlier this year.

Another big concern with drought is California and the desert Southwest. The latest data shows that nearly 45 percent of the southern portions of the Golden State are in moderate drought conditions. Sierra Nevada snowpacks are only about 25 percent of normal below 8,000 feet. However, thanks to the above normal moisture levels from last year, reservoirs are still in “pretty good shape.”

At the Los Angeles International Airport, only 1.51 inches of rain has fallen since Oct. 1, which is less than 25 percent of normal. At this same time last year, the airport had over 12 inches of rain, nearly double the average.

In other parts of the world, drought conditions are hurting Argentina’s corn and soybean crops and late-season plantings will likely be scaled back.

The most incredible situation with the lack of water is in Cape Town, South Africa. Over three years of massive drought, combined with an increased population of nearly 4 million people, may force officials to literally shut off the city’s water on April 16. That is “Day Zero,” the projected date when reservoirs are expected to drop to near 13.5 percent. Everyone in Cape Town is hoping for a good rainy season, which typically begins in May.

By contrast, where you have droughts on one side, you have floods on the other. Some of these places with too much water include parts of southeastern Africa, New Zealand, northern Australia and Guatemala.

•••

Contact Randy Mann at randy@longrangeweather.com

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