Drought Grows on Eve of Winter, 200 Mile Stretch of Mississippi Close to Shut Down

According to reports from the US Drought Monitor, a historic drought plaguing large swaths of the country since spring has again grown larger and more intense. Total areas under drought conditions are, once more, above 60% of the contiguous United States. This is about a 1.5 percent increase over last week’s drought measure. Severe and exceptional drought, the worst conditions measured, expanded to cover fully 19 percent of the contiguous US, also an increase of about 1.5 percent over last week’s measurement.

Hardest hit areas remain in or near the nation’s breadbasket. South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Wyoming are states currently suffering the most from ongoing drought. Minnesota, Iowa, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Georgia, and Nevada are also feeling strong direct impacts.

Forecasts for the next few months show a persisting drought that will likely pose a continuing threat to US crops throughout the winter and on into spring, possibly extending again into summer. The potential for conditions to worsen, again, in Texas should be cause for watchful concern as the season progresses. Texas is still recovering from the extreme drought of 2010-2011. A second blow during 2013 would prove very harmful to the state’s agriculture.

Over the past few weeks, the US wheat crop has taken a severe hit from the persistent and now re-emerging drought. Crop conditions, as of about a week ago, were the worst seen in 27 years. Risks are currently very high that the US wheat harvest for this year will be substantially lower, resulting in higher food prices at home and an intensifying food crisis abroad.

In Missouri, an area which felt strong impacts to its corn crops before drought somewhat abated for the state, Mississippi River levels are again low enough to warrant concern of a shut-down. Annually, the Army Corps of Engineers cuts off river flows to the Mississippi in order to ensure adequate reservoir storage for next year and to protect against flooding from melt run-off. This year’s shut down may bring river levels as low as 6 feet, which would effectively cut off traffic along a 200 mile stretch of waterway. If this happens, as much as 7 billion dollars worth of grain may be stranded up-river. Much of this grain goes to international markets. Such a closure would both result in damages to local economies as well as, potentially, food shortages and increasing prices abroad.

The culprit for this lingering and increasingly damaging drought is likely a blocking high that has continued to emerge over the nation’s heartland, fixing the weather pattern there to one that is both hotter and dryer than normal. These huge dips and swells in the Jet Stream are spurred by eroding sea ice boundaries in the Arctic which result in large shifts to the circumpolar winds. In turn, these wind changes alter the Jet Stream, making the emergence of blocking patterns like the one enhancing the current US drought far more likely.

Climate models have also predicted much drier conditions for the US West as global temperatures rise from an average range of .6 degrees Celsius higher than normal to as much as 2 degrees Celsius higher than normal by 2040-2050. It is likely that we began to see this climate-change induced drying during the early 2000s as average global temperatures reached .6 degrees Celsius above the 20th century average. Average global temps are now around .8 degrees Celsius higher and continuing to inch upward, so the US West is likely to experience periods of intensifying drought through the 2010s and worsening into the 2020s. By the 2030s and 2040s far worse conditions can only be avoided via large-scale curtailment of global greenhouse gas emissions.






Cooler Temperatures Bring Little Relief From Intensifying Drought


Though cooler temperatures graced the mid-section of the country this week, the most recent report from the US Drought Monitor shows that the worst drought since 1956 continued to deepen over much of the country.

In total, more than 63% of the land area of the continental US suffered from drought conditions. This is an increase of 1% over last week’s drought report which showed 62% of the US mainland suffering from drought. Fully thirty percent of the US was suffering from extreme or exceptional drought, about the same levels as last week.

That said, beneficial rains in the Ohio valley resulted in slightly less farmland being gripped by drought. According to the Drought Monitor, 85% of the U.S. corn crop, 83% of soybeans, 63% of hay, and 71% of cattle areas are still experiencing drought. Though this number is a slight improvement, it is still a very large swath of US agriculture.

Other impacts from the ongoing drought this week included large regions affected by fires. California, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington all experienced large blazes. Idaho has experienced its worst fire year on record and so far the United States has seen the most area burned for this time of year. Fires continued to rage in far eastern Russia, but most Siberian fires are now currently contained. The Balkans also experienced a major outbreak of wildfires during an extreme heat wave that resulted in numerous heat deaths and temperatures soaring to well over 104 degrees in many places. Spain saw fires continue both on the mainland and on one of its islands. Greece saw a major wildfire engulf one of its islands as well.

The Mississippi river experienced sporadic interruptions of traffic with sections of the river shut down on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week. Though the river has been running low throughout the summer, this is the first time that major traffic interruptions have occurred.

Worldwide, large areas of drought also affected the Balkan states, swaths of Europe, parts of India, and large sections of Asia.

The UN has recommended that nations begin setting up plans to deal with long-term droughts and the number of climate scientists linking the current droughts and extreme weather events to climate change continues to grow.



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