According to the latest report from U.S. Drought Monitor, drought conditions expanded in Florida and West Texas last week.
While storms and heavy precipitation rolled into much of the eastern United States, several weeks of low rainfall have pushed Florida’s peninsula into “abnormally” — and in some areas “moderate” or “severe” — dry conditions. And much of Texas remains blanketed by “moderate” to “severe” drought, with significant areas sliding all the way into “extreme” and “exceptional.” The state’s climatologist has warned that if the drought persists through the summer, only the record cumulative dry spell Texas suffered in the 1950s would be worse.
The latest outlook shows drought conditions persisting in both states through the spring, and possibly expanding in California and Oregon as well. And the massive drought conditions that’ve been pummeling the midwest remain as brutal as ever, as Climate Central reported late last week:
Although this is the climatological dry season for Florida, the current level of dryness is more intense than in normal years. Since Nov. 1, 2012, Daytona Beach has received just a little more than 40 percent of its normal rainfall, making it the 7th driest period in 80 years.
The past several weeks saw the drought in Texas intensify as well, which is a troubling sign moving into spring. Texas typically receives little widespread, steady precipitation during the spring and summer months and relies on the rains from the fall and winter to carry it through the year. Most of Texas has been under drought conditions since the summer of 2011, and that prolonged aridity has left reservoir levels across the state at record low levels, leaving the state vulnerable to water shortages and restrictions if conditions do not improve. [...]
According to the latest drought outlook, also released on Thursday, drought is forecast to develop and persist in both Texas and Florida this spring, but also may expand in the West and intensify in California and southern Oregon. The normal wet season in California begins to wind down in March, and precipitation is usually scarce by May. Parts of the West have already had well below normal amounts of precipitation for the winter season, and if that trend continues through spring, the drought could intensify significantly.
These droughts have hit Texas especially hard — a bitter irony, given that the state’s politics remain a hotbed of climate change denialism. Texas Republican leaders are begrudgingly supporting a bill to prop up the state’s struggling water infrastructure by tapping the rainy day fund, and Texas is actually involved in a web of suits with Oklahoma and New Mexico over water rights and river access, at least one of which will be heading to the Supreme Court.
Texas is the fifth largest rice-producer in the United States, with the crop’s farmers concentrated in three counties, and the Lower Colorado River Authority has been forced to cut them off from irrigation water for the second year in a row, thanks to the drought’s effect on reservoirs. The loss to rice production for the coming year is estimated to be roughly 55,000 acres.
The drought has also run Texas cattle herds down to their lowest level since 1952, shutting down beef production plants in the process.
A new report from the Illinois’ Department of Employment Security has concluded that “the 2012 summer drought could become the second most expensive weather event ever, behind only Hurricane Katrina.” Lower water levels may impact tourism and recreation along the Midwest’s ricers, and is already stifling shipping traffic on the Mississippi. Corn crops are being hit hard throughout the country, with Illinois taking the brunt of it:
Farmers are being squeezed between the increasing costs of trying to grow crops in sun-baked soil, and the lost income of grossly lowered crop yields. Employment in the livestock industry is expected to drop over the long-term, since much of the crops being devastated are used as feed. And as a result, food prices are going up both domestically and internationally — which could lead to increased labor costs abroad, panic buying, and political instability.
(H/T Business Insider)