Drought and the wildfires that accompany it is spreading across the entire United States and hitting the Western states especially hard. Much of this is due to low snow accumulation during the previous winter months. The West especially counts on snow melt to provide enough water to last the rest of the year.
At this point, even heavy rains won?t bring enough water to alleviate drought conditions, which are likely to persist in Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas. The areas around where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah connect have been rated ?exceptional? by the U.S. Weather Service, which is its most severe category.
In Colorado, wildfires are steadily progressing towards the Denver suburbs. The state has its driest December-May period in 107 years of record-keeping this year.
There?s drought in the East as well. ?Despite the rain, drought conditions still exist in the East, especially in the Southeast where the real focus is now,? says Jim Laver, director of the U.S. Climate Prediction Center. ?The precipitation made a dent in the drought, especially across the Appalachians and Northeast, but as a whole, the East is not out of the woods yet.?
Wildfires have destroyed almost 1.5 million acres so far this year, 200,000 acres more than were burned at this time in 2000, which was previously the worst year on record. Nineteen are still burning. ?Fire season is running four to six weeks ahead of schedule,?Says Don Smurthwaite, of the National Interagency Fire Center.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says drought in the Plains states means the winter wheat crop will be the smallest since 1978.
South Dakota is facing a drought worse than the ones that hit in 1988 and 1976, according to Gov. Bill Janklow. Pastures and range land are bare, meaning that farmers and ranchers are being forced to sell their cattle. 4,400 cattle were sold last week at the Fort Pierre Livestock Auction in a daylong and overnight sale that did not end until 7 a.m. the following morning. Usually only about 600 cattle are sold at the market on a single day. When the drought is finally over, framers will have to pay higher prices to replace their herds. "Down the road is when the big money impact is going to hit," says Janklow.
In Arizona, the temperature in Prescott tied a 1902 record high and the period from September to May is now the driest weather during that period in Prescott?s history. February also tied a 1900 record of zero rainfall.
No rain is expected in June, either. ?We?ve got a whole ?nother month of real extreme fire danger,? says Mike Campbell, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service?s Flagstaff office.
Hot, dry weather creates more wind than normal, too, when cold fronts arrive that are devoid of clouds or moisture (called ?dry fronts?). When the rainy season arrives?but doesn?t bring rain?it could produce dangerous dry lightning. Some weather experts believe the current drought won?t end until sometime between 2015 and 2025.
Mike Staudenmaier of the National Weather Service in Flagstaff says the weather cycle changes every 20 to 30 years. In 1995, it changed to a dry phase after three decades of above-average rainfall.
The 2-year drought hasn?t yet broken in New Mexico. 2002 has been the sixth-driest year in New Mexico in more than a century, with the state getting less than half the annual average of 13.4 inches of rain. Snowfall during the winter was also off by more than half.
Grasses that ranchers depend on for grazing are dead and farmers are trying to keep their crops alive with well water. "We're dry. Dry, dry, dry," says county agricultural specialist Bill Neish. "You'd think it was December. We're really having to pump our wells hard."
In Santa Fe, reservoirs are at 25 percent capacity, less than half the normal level for this time of year. City dwellers are cutting back on lawn watering and hotels are installing low-flow toilets and shower heads. Some restaurants are using paper plates and plastic cutlery.
Deb Simone, a tourist in Santa Fe, says, "I've never been asked to reuse my towels before." If she stays a week, her sheets will only be changed once, as well.
There?s short-term drought, which is part of a natural cycle, and long-term drought caused by global warming. Which one is affecting us? To find out, read ?The Coming Global Superstorm,? now only $9.95 for a hardcover signed by Whitley Strieber and soon to be a major motion picture,click here.
For information on South Dakota, click here.
For information on Arizona, click here.
For information on New Mexico, click here.
To check drought conditions in your area,click here.
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