Drought has engulfed nearly a third of the United States, which this summer may lead some of the worst water shortages in years.
It?s still far short of the 1930s Dust Bowl, when up to 70 percent of the country had no rain. However, unless there?s a rainy spring, some places in the East may face summer water problems as bad as the droughts of the 1960s, according to Harry Lins, a drought specialist at the U.S. Geological Survey.
Drought is usually defined as 70 percent of normal rain or snow for three months straight. Drought conditions now run in two vast Eastern and Western strips, each hundreds of miles across, from Maine to Georgia and Montana to Texas, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor map.
Several factors have combined to cause widespread drought conditions. La Nina, which cools Pacific ocean surface waters caused the recent warm, dry winters in the Southeast and warm, dry summers in the northern Rocky Mountain states.
Also, the jet stream is on the move due to global warming. This winter it moved north, steering this winter?s storms toward the Pacific Northwest and Midwest. Persistent high pressure in the East has also kept storms out of that region.
Thousands of shallow wells in New Hampshire and Georgia have run dry. In Kansas, cattle ranchers face the choice of buying water or selling off their cattle. Things will get worse this summer when farmers begin to water their crops and homeowners water their lawns. The high summer temperatures evaporate more water faster.
In the last six months, Los Angeles has had just over a third of its usual 11 inches of rain. Bernie Rayno, a forecaster at AccuWeather in State College, Pennsylvania, says, ?They?re missing their window of opportunity. Once you get past that, you?re not going to get rain there.?
New York City officials say mandatory restrictions on water usage could be imposed within a month, since reservoirs are down to 48 percent of capacity. Water managers have doubled the amount of water used from the New Croton Reservoir although people complain about its dark color and unpleasant smell. Also, an increase in two common diarrhea-causing microorganisms, giardia and crytosporidium, has been detected in untreated water from the New Croton and Kensico reservoirs. Doctors were warned Feb. 14 to advise New York City area residents with weak immune systems to boil their water before using it. Lower water levels due to the drought may be increasing the relative germ concentrations.
Connecticut environmental officials are suspending the annual opening of dams for the first time since 1981. Reservoirs around Baltimore are lower than ever for this time of year. The Prettyboy, one of three city reservoirs, has dropped to one-third of capacity. ?Prettyboy is starting to look like the Grand Canyon out there, with all these cracks in the mud,? says Kurt Kocher of the city Department of Public Works. The city system is temporarily drawing 40 percent of its daily 250 million gallons from the Susquehanna River, though its iron taste sometimes causes complaints.
?This is a sleeping giant,? says Mark Svoboda, of the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Nebraska. ?The impact is still to come.? To see the Drought Monitor map,click here.To access the Climate Prediction Center,click here.
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