Historic US Drought Still Ongoing; Isaac Brings Little Relief

The most recent report from the US Drought Monitor shows Isaac had little overall impact on this year’s historic drought. Areas in Arkansas, Missouri, and Indiana did receive substantial rains and farmers in those regions are experiencing much-needed relief. This year’s rains, however, have come too late for many crops.

Though drought conditions improved in these regions, overall US drought conditions remained severe.

In total, the land area currently experiencing drought remained at 63% of the contiguous United States for this week. The amount of area experiencing severe to extreme drought fell only slightly from 23% the week before to 22%.

Hard hit areas in the US, Europe and Russia have resulted in rising food prices this summer. However, this week, food prices stabilized even as the United Nations urged action to prevent hunger. The UN went so far as to say the world is not currently in a food crisis, but that conditions were very fragile and any additional stresses may push food markets over the edge.

Isaac’s rains may have provided some relief to farmers in states affected, but it has done little to alleviate low water levels on the Mississippi. River traffic is still severely constrained and is likely to become even moreso if rain conditions upstream do not improve. Sections of the Mississippi have been sporadically shut down to traffic since last month while up-river sections have been impassible since June.

The most recent ‘Drought Outlook’ does show some reason for hope. A large section of the heartland is expected to improve as new weather patterns emerge. Lower temperatures will also aid in moisture retention. However, a large area west of the Mississippi is expected to see persistent or intensifying drought. Overall, this forecast shows that the very large swath of drought should shrink a bit through fall, but that no major abatement is likely through late November.

Warmer than usual winter temperatures for the US are also likely to enhance drought in the areas in which these conditions persist. A return to El Nino conditions and a change in the blocking pattern could spell an abatement of current US drought conditions. However, this year’s expected El Nino has been rather weak and slow to develop.

Many climate scientists, including James Hansen, have attributed the severity of this year’s drought to human caused global warming. So as the underlying conditions of human caused climate change intensify, it is likely that potentials for droughts and severe droughts will continue to rise for the US in coming years and decades.

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