According to the most recent report by NOAA’s Drought Monitor, about 65% of the US is still suffering from drought conditions. Though a storm system bringing tropical rains to the east and parts of Texas helped alleviate conditions in those areas, dryness worsened for much of the west and central US this week.
Most of the US also suffered from hotter than normal temperatures, with the northeast being the only region to gain a respite from the ongoing heat.
Impacts included continued instances of wildfires throughout the west as hot and dry conditions amplified. In the north, strange swarms of pine bore beetles were seen leaving the US in vast clouds only to settle on the forests of Canada. These clouds darkened skies and fooled many into thinking rain had come. Many experts speculated that US pine trees had been so decimated over past years by a combination of beetles, dry weather, and fires that the beetles had massed to move on to the greener north.
In an even more bizarre circumstance, reports are coming in of very high rates of grass theft occurring in New Mexico. Framers, having lost grazing land due to drought, have been cutting their neighbor’s fences and letting cattle graze illegally on nearby lands. This is a phenomena not seen before in the southwest and is just one more indication of stress due to the continued drought.
Finally, research is continuing to determine how bad the current drought and related droughts of the 2000s have become. In Temperature as a Potent Driver of Regional Forest Drought Stress and Tree Mortality (by A. Park Williams et al., Nature Climate Change, 30 September 2012), the authors note that current severe drought conditions in the Southwest — extending from 2000 to the present – are the fifth most severe since 1000 AD. The report brings to light the importance of not viewing the 2012 drought as an isolated event, but as part of a much larger drought that began during the 21rst century’s first decade and has continued and intensified as time moved forward and human caused global warming deepened.