A major drought that began last year, ramped up through last summer and autumn, and lingered through winter and spring of 2013 continues to have major impacts. Western states remain severely impacted with fire risks flaring throughout California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas and Oklahoma. Meanwhile, Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico continue to battle over water rights as drought conditions persist.
That said, the drought appeared to be slowly, tortuously abating as rains and record floods swept into various areas and began to provide relief. Now, about 46 percent of the US is currently suffering from some stage of drought. Though still very widespread, area impacted by drought last year surged to over 60 percent.
Now, as it appeared abatement and a slow return to normal conditions would continue, new forecasts show drought re-expanding into the plains states in time to threaten summer corn crops.
A recent report issued by climate experts at Harris-Mann Climatology found that:
“The drought in the Southwest is expected to move and expand eastward over the central and southern Great Plains, as well as at least the western Midwest, by late June or July. Flooded areas near the Missouri River are likely to turn to the opposite extreme of dryness later this summer season.”
For a farming region hoping to recover from the worst drought since 1955, and for a global food system teetering at the edge of insecurity this is a terrible forecast. Further, such a return to drought conditions would have serious monetary impacts. According to reports from AG Professional, a continuance and expansion of this drought could result in as much as $200 billion dollars in damages making the current drought the most costly weather disaster for 2012-2013, beating out even the far-reaching impacts of Hurricane Sandy.
Driving this change is a sudden shift of eastern Pacific Ocean waters toward a cooling phase called La Nina. La Nina tends to result in a heating and drying of the central and western United States. This shift led Harris-Mann to issue its revised forecast. You can see the cooling eastern Pacific on the map provided by NOAA below:
(Image source: NOAA)
Harris-Mann also seems to note the unprecedented nature of current human-induced weather extremes stating:
“We’re still in a pattern of wild weather ‘extremes,’ the worst in more than 1,000 years, since the days of Leif Ericsson. For example, 2012 was the warmest year ever for the U.S., but on January 22, 2013, there was a record for the most ice and snow across the Northern Hemisphere continent.”
It is also worth noting that the period during which these extreme events occurred was the 8th warmest on record globally.