Global Warming Induced Drought Set to Re-Expand, Could Cost $200 Billion

Drought May 21 2013

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.


Drought Damage Could Top $200 Billion

Drought Conditions Forecast to Return to Central US


US Drought Monitor


Historic US Drought Hangs on Through Spring 2013; Despite Slow Improvement, May Continue Into Summer


A historic US Drought that began in Texas in 2011, receded for a brief time, and then expanded to cover as much as 65% of the continental United States still troubles much of the country. Currently, according to reports from the US Drought Monitor, more than 53% percent of the contiguous United States still suffers from some level of drought.

Dryness persisted across much of the western US during winter. However, beneficial rains and snows did alleviate some drought in the center of the country. These drought conditions put the US wheat crop at risk throughout much of winter. While concern remains that wheat harvests will be below average, precipitation in parts of Iowa and other portions of the mid-west may have mitigated some of the damage.

Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, South Dakota, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming are still feeling the drought’s worst effects. Texas has been forced to tap into its emergency fund as it enters its third year of drought. Water shortages have led to the lowest cattle stocks for the state since 1952 and sparked an ongoing conflict over water with New Mexico. Texas and New Mexico’s conflict over water is now awaiting a resolution from the US Supreme Court.

Drought Forecast Spring 2013

Unfortunately, current forecasts by NOAA indicate persistent and intensifying drought in many of the hardest hit areas. While Nebraska and North Dakota may see some relief, much of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming remain under the gun. Further, forecasts indicate that conditions could worsen in Texas, Arizona, and California, while also spreading into much of Florida.

It looks like the next three months will see much of the US continuing to suffer from drought. Although the heat and dryness are not as severe as 2012, impacts are likely to remain high for hardest hit states. Overall, agriculture may not take as heavy a blow in 2013 as in 2012, but serious challenges will remain for many of the nation’s farmers. On the bright side, improvement appears likely through much of the US grain states of Iowa, Minnesota, Arkansas and Indiana. So, hopefully, improvement in these regions will help balance continued and increasing trouble in the west.

Taking into account the Texas drought of 2011, the historic drought of 2012, and the current drought, large portions of the US are now entering their third year of drought. A combination of a warming globe and weather patterns favorable for drought likely contributed to last year’s damage. In 2013, weather patterns that would normally contribute to drought have moderated somewhat but the persistent, long-term impacts of global warming remain. And these changes are predicted to result in a drying of the Southwestern states of the US to continue long-term.


Global Warming Enhanced Drought Continues to Ravage US, Likely To Persist at Least ’til Spring


When greed’s involved, it’s very, very difficult to get people to pay attention to facts, much less do the right thing — even when it’s in their own long-term best interest. And so a massive climate-change induced drought continues unabated and with almost zero hint of pursuing the only realistic climate solution — reducing fossil fuel emissions — from the nation’s or the world’s major governing bodies.

As of Tuesday December 11, 2012, more than 62 percent of the continental US continued to suffer from a drought that emerged more than 10 months ago. This year’s summer crops were hard hit, causing rising prices in world grain markets and sparking growing concerns about world food prices. Now US winter crops are also under the gun with Plains States showing between 40 and 65 percent of their respective crops in poor or very poor condition.

Around the world, crops are also being influenced by extreme weather resulting from climate change. Serbia is suffering major crop damage from drought and 30% of UK croplands went unplanted as a result of severe weather. These added impacts come on the back of poor Russian harvests (drought-related) and crop disruptions in India due to irregularities in the monsoonal season.

Back in the US, conventional forecasts show wide-ranging drought persisting until at least March. The result is that US winter crops will almost certainly also suffer losses, further worsening the world’s already bad food situation.


The problem doesn’t fully resolve, though, until we take a look at the long-range climate models which show US drought conditions continuing to worsen as fossil fuel emissions ramp up and global warming feedbacks kick in throughout this coming century. In the end, the desert southwest gobbles up the breadbasket.

One would think a wholesale drying out of the nation’s heartland over the next few decades would be something that would spur a rush to reducing fossil fuel use. One would think this, especially, after a global warming enhanced Sandy ravaged the US East Coast about a month and a half ago. But this demonstration as prelude to how vulnerable our extremely valuable coastal cities have become to global warming induced sea rise and storms seems to have fallen on mostly deaf ears.

Though a few valiant democrats have repeated the call of this blog and others to observe the real threat — The Climate Cliff — and not posture over a contrived threat — The Fiscal Cliff — intransigence among the vast body of government and media remain. Just today, a ridiculous New York Times op-ed heralded a new age of US prosperity through increasing oil production. The article, entitled American Bull, describes how a new US National Intelligence Council (NIC) report shows the US will enter new age of prosperity by extracting more oil and gas. The article’s author, Roger Cohen, unfortunately fails to mention that the NIC report also showed an extreme risk for powerful climate change impacts. Neither Cohen nor the NIC report directly link fossil fuel emissions and ever-increasing damage to the climate. A somewhat vast oversight when your farmland is currently withering and when your cities are teetering at the brink of a rising and increasingly stormy ocean. Cohen, in his postulation for American prosperity in the face of such events may as well have entitled his piece American BS.

New oil and gas resources might be cause for some optimism if climate change were a non-issue (as oil special interests and people with their heads in the sand continue to pretend) and if the extraction of such resources weren’t so darn expensive. Marginal oil in the US is now 90 dollars per barrel and rising. Marginal gas is 5 dollars per unit. Huge numbers of drilling rigs are required to get at the Earth-baking stuff. Ten billion dollars in subsidy support in the US and more than 500 billion worldwide goes to ensuring that the hard to reach carbon keeps flowing out of the ground and into the atmosphere (In contrast, less than 90 billion dollars goes to funding solutions to climate change — wind, solar, energy storage and electric vehicles). Now, oil companies are calling for, multi-trillion dollar, geoengineering and climate change adaptation adventures to help defend against the increasing damage caused by global warming. How can anyone talk about prosperity in the face of these rising costs? When will someone wake up and realize that maintaining fossil fuel addiction is just too darn dangerous and expensive?

As these special interest mad hatters continue their Alice in Wonderland tea party at the brink of disaster, the heartland continues to dry, the northern ice cap continues to rapidly melt, the seas continue to rise at an increasing rate, the storms continue to intensify, and the world’s food situation grows worse. The simple solution is this: ignore the greedy, cut fossil fuel emissions, move to safer technologies. Stop being stupid.


Sandy Misses Areas of US Suffering From Drought, Over 60% of Land Still Affected, US Winter Wheat Conditions Worst in 27 Years

Despite receiving record precipitation over a broad swath of territory, more than 60% of the United States is still suffering from a historic and global warming-induced drought. Sandy provided some mitigation for drought conditions in the Eastern and Mid-Western sections of the US. However, drought conditions were largely unchanged over broad swaths of the Western US and Heartland.

As a result, the US is now suffering its worst winter wheat harvest conditions in at least 27 years. Monitoring began in 1985, so it is impossible to know how far back one would have to go to find conditions similar to what is being experienced now. Just 40 percent of the current wheat crop is rated good to excellent. Fully 15 percent is rated poor to very poor.

“The low crop ratings will increase concern about the yield potential of this year’s crop,”Shawn McCambridge, the senior grain analyst for Jefferies Bache LLC in Chicago, said in a telephone interview to Bloomberg. “The weather doesn’t look promising for much improvement and may increase overseas demand for supplies left from last year’s U.S. harvest.”

The US corn crop is down 13 percent from last year. The US soybean crop is also down, showing a 7 percent loss from the year prior. Some of the remaining crops may have been damaged by Sandy as it raged over a large section of the Eastern US earlier this week.

Wheat losses similar to those suffered by US corn and soybean crops pose a risk for pushing the world’s food situation into a state of crisis. Throughout October, the UN has been warning of the potential for a spreading food crisis should any more ‘unforeseen events’ materialize.


Global Warming Brings Hell in the Heartland, High Water on the East Coast

Joe Romm in his seminal book on climate change ‘Hell and High Water‘ described how human caused global warming was likely to ravage both the US and the world, if left unchecked. It is an alarming revelation of the immediate problem posed by climate change that shows many of the effects and impacts resulting from greenhouse gas emissions are far more current than initially thought. These impacts occur within the span of our generation, not just as a nasty form of generational sabotage foisted on our children and grandchildren.

This year, as climate scientists around the world acknowledged the fact that global warming was having a direct impact on weather, causing it to worsen, the first strong effects of human caused climate change began to take shape. These first outliers of ‘Hell and High Water’ climate change are now being visited upon the United States. Off the East Coast, as described in a previous blog, it appears that a storm to rival the Perfect Storm of 1991 may well be forming. Meanwhile a severe drought that began this Spring continues to ravage the heartland.

Currently, over 62 percent of the United States’ landmass continues to struggle under the assaults of a historic drought. By mid-October of any normal year you would have expected dryness and drought to have slackened its grip on our country. But this year the drought that peaked at 65% of the total continental landmass has barely even paused. Enormous swaths of the country remain under drought with the most extreme drought burning a hole directly in the country’s center.

Overall, extreme conditions have mainly shifted north and west. But the coverage and impact of drought areas remains substantial. According to this week’s Drought Monitor:

Significant precipitation was limited to the eastern Dakotas, while the High Plains’ hard red winter wheat belt received little or no rain.  As a result, soil moisture shortages continued to limit wheat emergence and development across the northwestern half of the Plains.  In addition, mid-week wind gusts locally in excess of 70 mph raised dust and temporarily closed major roadways across parts of the Plains.

Overall, the risk to the nation’s wheat harvest remains high with more than 60% of the nation’s wheat under threat. That said, wheat is a much hardier crop than corn and may well show less impact from the ongoing drought. However, stakes remain high as the US is a major wheat exporter and UN food analysts are saying the world may enter a food crisis if any more climate-driven shortages crop up.

Russian and Ukraine wheat output is at a nine year low. EU stockpiles are at a 14 year low. Argentina, the world’s sixth largest wheat exporter, has experienced a 16 percent fall in production. Though US wheat prices are running $20 per ton higher than the world average, the world may turn to the US as EU and South American wheat stocks set aside for export begin to run low. In such an event, any damage to the US wheat harvest would cause serious difficulties for importing countries like Egypt and other Middle Eastern and African nations reliant on world trade to supplement their people’s nutritional requirements.

Persistent US drought could pose a problem for next year’s crops as well. Back to back years like 2012 would result in severe consequences for both the US and the community of nations reliant on international trade to prevent hunger.


Historic US Drought Shows Slight Improvement Overall, Worsens in Some Areas, 69 Percent of Winter Wheat Crop Threatened

According to this week’s Drought Monitor, the ongoing historic drought, made worse by global warming, still grips a large swath of the United States despite cooler temperatures and two rain systems sweeping through the central US.

Overall, US drought coverage fell to 62% of the contiguous US, a 2% fall from last week and a three percent fall from the maximum drought area reached this year. However, large swaths of the US and, in particular, US farmland are still struggling under drought. Though some areas on the eastern fringes of the larger drought zone saw improvement, other areas such as South Dakota and Nebraska saw intensifying dryness.

Reports from farmers this week also showed that the winter wheat crop had been put at risk due to ongoing drought conditions. Usually, cooler temperatures and rains bring a respite to drought conditions during this time of year. However, a fall dryness is allowing drought to maintain its grip over much of the country. Currently, over 69 percent of the areas normally planted for winter wheat are suffering from some level of drought. Nebraska, South Dakota and Montana have been particularly hard hit. Seed germination is well behind schedule in most regions and many farmers are not willing to take the risk of planting in such dry conditions. The result is a major risk to US wheat crops after a difficult corn planting season across the US.

Under current drought conditions, the US is now consuming more food than it produces. This rare event is having widespread impact on world food markets. Overall world food security has been dealt a sever blow since the early 2000s when forward food supplies were higher than 104 days. But six of the past eleven years have seen extreme weather conditions that resulted in the world consuming more food than it produced. As a result, forward food supply has fallen, on average, to 74 days. Recently, the UN noted that the world’s food markets were currently strained to the limit and couldn’t bear any more ‘unexpected events.’ But a major unexpected event continues apace over most of the US.

Climate scientists are showing that such dry conditions will likely grow worse over the coming years if both the US and the world fail to begin to reduce carbon emissions. Sadly, some drought will likely happen in the coming decades even if carbon emissions are rolled back. But the devastation that is likely to occur if carbon emissions continue on their current track is unconscionable. Climate models show that both large swaths of the US and much of Europe become as dry as north Africa. This devastation to major productive regions would be very damaging to the world’s food security and likely result in major regional and global upheavals. Yet this condition, which is starting now and which will grow worse over time, is being largely ignored by the world’s leaders. In particular, the US has one political party that wholesale denies the impacts of global warming. This denial is as destructive to our farmers as it is poisonous to our political climate. If we are to deal rationally with these problems and, likely, if we are to survive as a nation, this self-destructive, brutish and and small-minded denial must end.

We have entered the gates of a crisis and we need all hands to be alert and ready to defend the ship, not knocking holes in the hull.




Persistent Global Warming Induced Drought Threatens Winter Crops


A persistent drought, that scientists are saying has been made worse by global warming, is now threatening the nation’s winter crops.

According to the US Drought Monitor, 64% of the US is now suffering from some level of drought. Though the overall area of drought fell slightly last week, regions of the US West and heartland experienced intensifying drought. This persistence of broad areas and intensification in critical regions is contributing to anxiety over US winter crops. And many key states, including Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa are already experiencing impacts.

According to CBS’s Money Watch:

Dry conditions continue to intensify in Kansas, where extreme drought now covers the entire south-central portion of the state, according to Thursday’s update released by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.

Those parched environs are stalling growth of winter wheat. The 65 percent of that crop planted in Kansas as of last Sunday was slightly above the average pace, though a below-average 25 percent of that emerged. Less than one-third of Nebraska’s winter wheat fields have germinated, 12 days behind the norm.

The new threat to US crops comes on the back of severe summer losses to the nation’s corn crop. These losses have caused yields to drop to 122 bushels per ache, the lowest average per acre since 1995. Overall, industry use of corn will need to be negotiated due to tightening supplies — a form of industry rationing that takes place during times of constraint. Total US corn production is expected to be 10.71 billion bushels, down from last month’s estimate and the lowest since 2006. Current US corn supply is the lowest in 17 years — three weeks of forward supply. Drought persisting through winter will hit wheat crops as well, resulting in even more tightness in the grain markets.

Unfortunately, the long-term forecast is for global warming to result in worsening overall drought conditions for the US. Serious efforts are needed to prevent further damage to US farmers and US agriculture. This year’s drought, the worst in 55 years, comes on the back of the fifth driest period for the US west in 500 years. Climate experts only show worsening conditions if greenhouse gas emissions are not curtailed.



Historic US Drought Continues to Expand; Long-Term Forecast Shows Potential for Drought to Worsen

The historic US drought that has, for more than a half a year, plagued so much of the nation continues to gobble up more land. Last week, drought covered 64.8% of the US. This week saw an expansion of moderate to exceptional conditions growing to cover 65.5% of the US land mass.

This is the largest land area covered by drought since the Drought Monitor began keeping records.

Though some areas in the east received rains, causing conditions to moderate there, monsoonal flows have shut down for the west, cutting off a supply of needed moisture. The loss of monsoons has resulted in the west slipping back to a hotter and drier than normal pattern, intensifying already dangerous drought conditions there.

Overall, 6.12 percent of the US suffered under exceptional drought, 21.48 percent of the US suffered under extreme or exceptional drought, 42.12 percent of the US suffered under severe or worse conditions, and 65.45% of the US suffered from moderate or worse conditions. For the week, drought area expanded in all categories.

The drought’s severe impacts to US river flows has continued to impair traffic on the Mississippi. Recently, traffic was halted near Granite City and at the Port of Osceola. At Osceola a dredge is currently laboring to re-open an area that has been closed for nearly a month due to low water. Traffic at Granite City backed up after Lock 27 suffered damage even as the low and narrow nearby river struggled to support a backlog of barges waiting for passage.

Impacts to US farmers for this year are mostly finished. However, the persistent drought raises worries for next year. Some farmers are rushing to implement the use of new heat resistant varieties of corn while others are looking to what impacts will result from this year’s losses. A few shortages have popped up on the radar screen for next year. Most notably, it appears that the world will suffer a shortage of bacon come 2013. And though grain and cereal supplies are quite low due to droughts in the US, parts of Europe, and parts of Russia, an overall shortage has yet to materialize.

Two factors are currently driving the ongoing drought in the US. The first is a long-term trend of heating and drying resulting from human caused global warming. The second is the fact that El Nino, long predicted for late 2012 to 2013, is starting to look rather weak. The most recent sea surface temperature anomaly measurements from NOAA show ENSO in a neutral to slightly positive state. This means that El Nino in the eastern Pacific, a powerful driver of weather patterns, is currently very weak. Though the World Meteorological Organization is still calling for El Nino conditions to begin within the next month, others doubt whether this El Nino will eventually form.

A weak or neutral El Nino for 2013 is not likely to provide the impetus to drive out the current US drought. So with the increasing force of global warming and a failure of El Nino to provide more consistent winter storms for the US, it appears more likely that drought will persist. This forecast seems to have been validated by the most recent seasonal drought outlook which calls for expanding drought conditions through December 31rst of 2012. Such a scenario would point toward a potential for worsening US drought conditions in 2013.



Drought Expands to Cover 65 Percent of US, Largest Drought Area in Monitor’s Record, At 77 Billion, Drought 3rd Most Costly Weather Disaster on Record

Drought conditions broadened to expand to cover much of the US this week even as monsoonal moisture lessened the severity of drought in some areas.

According to reports from the US Drought Monitor, drought expanded to cover more than 65% of the US, the largest area ever in the Monitor’s record. A broad, contiguous swath of land from the Tennessee and Mississippi river valleys to the Rio Grand in the south, the Canadian border in the north and the California coast in the south all continue to suffer from conditions of moderate to exceptional drought. In addition, a swath of abnormally dry to severe and extreme conditions concentrating in Georgia and eastern Alabama parched parts of the eastern US.

Though drought areas broadened, monsoonal moisture, usually a respite for this time of year, did cause some slight reductions in Severe to exceptional drought conditions. Overall, the areas covered by severe to exceptional drought dropped by slightly more than half a percent to reach 41.07% for this week.

Much of the US’s breadbasket remained under severe to exceptional drought conditions. Farmers’ fields lay over dessicated soil. Wilted corn ears produced tiny cobs or no cobs at all. The monsoonal rains coaxed up a fresh growth of green grass. But the very dry soils underneath do not bode well for next year’s growing season, unless a long period of rain rejuvenates the soil this winter.

According to reports from USA Today, this year’s drought is now expected to cost over $77 billion dollars, the third most costly weather disaster in US history after Hurricane Katrina and the 1988 drought. Areas hardest hit include Oklahoma, which just suffered from an extreme drought just last year. Texas, also hit by last year’s drought, is showing persistent or expanding drought as well.

In context, climate change has brought one year of record flooding to the US, followed by a year of record drought. These extreme swings from one condition to the next are not helpful to agriculture and crop viability. Overall, the trend toward drying and swings between more and more extreme conditions is likely to continue for much of the US over the coming decade and worsening into the the 2020s and 2030s.

This year’s drought also shows the potential to worsen into next year should a recovery not come this winter. Overall, this prospect is appearing more and more likely. According to the most recent drought forecast, much of the country is expected to show worsening drought. Only a small region is expected to show persistent or improving conditions and a very small region is expected to show improving conditions. Perhaps, more ominously, the northwest, so far spared the worse harms of the current drought, is expected to fall into drought conditions over the next few months.


Record US Drought Deepens, 61 Percent of Country Suffering From Some Level of Drought

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The most recent report from NOAA shows a current record US drought deepening with more than 61% of the country now suffering from extreme conditions.

The worst drought in 25 years has severely impacted US agriculture. According to the monitor, in the US’s 18 primary corn-producing states, 30 percent of the corn crop is now in poor or very poor condition. Earlier this year, a combination of increased demand and poor conditions last year resulted in more than 48% of US corn stockpiles being wiped out. In response, the US began planting its largest corn crop ever in May. Now, unprecedented widespread drought conditions are threatening that crop.

The result is that food prices are steadily rising. This Thursday, corn prices had risen by as much as 4% by end of trading. Since mid June prices for corn had risen more than 33%, with prices of wheat jumping 23% and prices of soy rising 13%.

These rising prices reflect anxiety on the part of grain consumers from China to the Middle East and many other places around the world. The crisis has caused many to wonder if this year may be a repeat of 2010, when severe drought damaged Russia’s wheat crop and sent prices soaring. The food scarcity that followed sparked food riots throughout the Middle East and served as a flash-point for the Arab Spring.

This year, threatening conditions include the consistent dryness in the US, another dry year in the Russian wheat belt and the worst start to India’s Monsoon season in three years. These factors have caused increased concerns that regions will impose export restrictions in order to preserve local food security, to the detriment of food importers.

Food security in recent years has also been harmed by the emergence of ‘just in time’ supply, where stockpiles are winnowed down in favor of a rapid response market and delivery system. Such a system works fine so long as abundant supplies are available. But the system is not resilient to crisis events, where the lack of available food in the event of yearly or multi-year droughts can have dramatic impacts on world food security.

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