Archive for Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Drought of 2002 likely to continue

December 18, 2002


— Drought was a major weather story in the United States this year, and dryness is expected to persist in the Northwest at least through spring.

For the record, 2002 is on course to becoming the 19th warmest year in the United States since record keeping began in 1895. Those above-normal readings, combined with lack of moisture across much of the nation, plunged more than half the country into drought by summer.

Drought damage already has cost hundreds of millions of dollars, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Tuesday.

This year also recorded seven tropical storms that made landfall, which helped produce the wettest fall on record in Louisiana and contributed to heavy flooding in Texas.

Those storms had a positive side as well. They eased the drought in the Gulf Coast and Southeast, so that by the end of November the portion of the nation in drought conditions was down to 36 percent.

The most extensive drought on record in the United States was in July 1934, when 80 percent of the country was parched.

This year, drought that began more than four years ago in some parts of Montana forced farmers to abandon more than 20 percent of the winter wheat crop for a second consecutive year.

The dry conditions also contributed to an extremely active wildfire season that included the largest fires of the past century in Colorado, Arizona and Oregon.

No relief was in sight for the dry Northwest, where the El Niño pattern in the Pacific Ocean was directing moisture away from the normally damp region. Storms blamed at least in part on El Niño were battering California and directed wetness across the southern half of the country, bringing crippling snow and ice to North Carolina in recent weeks.

El Niño, a periodic warming of water in the equatorial Pacific, can affect weather around the world and has directed storms this winter along a track across the southern part of the country, helping ease the drought there.

James Laver of the federal Climate Prediction Center said he expected El Niño would continue through the spring.

Under that pattern, forecasters say, the nation can expect warmer-than-normal temperatures across the northern half of the country, wetter- and stormier-than-normal weather across the south from California through the Carolinas, and drier-than-normal conditions in the northern Rockies and Midwest.

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