We’re heading into the second quarter of the year with nearly 60 percent of the United States mired in some level of drought. The latest update of the United States Drought Monitor (USDM) paints a bleak picture of a country pining for water, with opportunities for meaningful rain dwindling for some areas.
Last week’s update of the USDM found that 58 percent of the contiguous United States was in a moderate drought or worse, with 41 percent of the country experiencing a severe, extreme, or exceptional drought, the three highest categories on the USDM’s scale measuring the severity of a region’s lack of precipitation.
The hardest-hit area continues to be the western half of the United States, where many years of drought have significantly taxed the region’s water resources and led to one historic and tragic wildfire after another.
Exceptional drought—the most serious category on the USDM’s scale—covers just about two percent of the lower 48’s land area, including central Oregon, central Nevada, and scattered portions of Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico.
The expansion and persistence of the drought on the southern Plains is particularly worrisome for residents hoping to avoid wildfires. Just this week, forecasters called for an “outbreak” of fire weather conditions across the region, thanks in large part to the ongoing drought.
Drought conditions have worsened significantly along portions of the Gulf Coast, as well, with a severe to extreme drought creeping through more than half of Louisiana.
This is also concerning for an area that’s been hard-hit by hurricanes in recent years. Just a few weeks ago, we saw a large wildfire near Tallahassee, Florida, fueled by dried-out tree debris left behind by 2018’s Hurricane Michael. The large amount of dead vegetation left behind by hurricanes like Laura, Zeta, and Ida could promote wildfires in Louisiana amid the state’s severe to extreme drought.
The news from NOAA on potential drought amelioration is grim.
The agency released its spring outlook in mid-March, which calls for drier-than-normal conditions to persist and worsen across areas already experiencing drought.
NOAA’s forecast calls for drought to continue for just about all areas currently affected, with an expected lack of rainfall worsening conditions for parts of the desert southwest and the Plains.