Over the past week, drought conditions in the US broadened, covering more land area. Overall, 64% of the US is now suffering from some level of drought. Extreme and exceptional drought conditions persisted with only a slightly smaller area, 21.09% of the US, experiencing these conditions.
Cooler air over much of the US has brought some relief. Wetter conditions have also mitigated some drought in the eastern part of the country. However, drier fall conditions for large swaths of the country seem to be taking back much of this benefit. Overall, conditions in the eastern US improved with areas around the immediate lower Mississippi valley improving as well. However, drought conditions expanded through much of the west-central and western US.
Food conditions, though bad, appear to have stabilized at a level short of a crisis. Corn prices have come down about 10% from record highs in August. Meanwhile, wheat prices are still about 50% higher than they were before the drought. Droughts in Europe and Russia as well as a late start to India’s Monsoon Season have resulted in stresses to world food availability and pushed global prices higher. Though stabilized somewhat, the world food situation is still tenuous and fragile. Any further crisis or impacts would likely have detrimental effects.
Regarding the most recent food market report from the USDA, Sebastien Techer, a grains analyst noted: “It’s not a bold report. In the USDA’s view, the situation is not worse than last month. But we know that there is the potential for a downward revision.”
Over the next five days, a storm system is expected to bring much-needed rain to areas of Texas and Oklahoma. Rainfall totals, however, aren’t likely to end drought conditions in these hard-hit regions. Over the next ten days, the west is expected to continue drying out.
In context, the fact that drought conditions in the US are still expanding to cover larger areas is worrisome. Long-term climate change dictates that the US will grow drier and drier, experiencing conditions like that of the Dust Bowl with regular frequency. We aren’t currently at that point in the warming picture. However, we are experiencing global warming enhanced dryness and extreme weather on top of a typical trend. So any normal drying event will now seem abnormal and much stronger. Abnormal events may result in what were previously 100 year or greater events.
The fifty year drought is still ongoing. Its land area is growing. And though the long-term forecast is for some mitigation, there is still no end in sight.