States from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific are experiencing severe drought conditions. This nationwide drought is more serious than the usual dry spell. The entire state of Wyoming has been declared a drought disaster area, and large areas of the Southeast and the West are in danger of wildfires.
In New York City, reservoir levels are at 50 percent below normal. Rain and snowfall in Washington, D.C., is 70 percent below normal for the September to February period. Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, Virginia, Arizona and Massachusetts have had their driest September-to-February periods ever. In some Southern states, there are areas that have had moisture deficits of more than 30 inches. ?This is comparable to missing a full year of rain,? says National Weather Service Director Jack Kelly.
?The drought in some areas will worsen as we move into the warmer months, when demand for water is greatest,? says National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher Jr. The fact that many spots have had four years without enough rain or snow makes things even worse, he says. ?Changing weather patterns may offer a glimmer of hope, but we don?t see the water levels returning to normal anytime soon.?
Much of the drought is due to warmer winters and less snow accumulation, due to global warming. Many areas depend on melting snow in the spring for their water.
The Western states suffering the worst conditions are Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, portions of Nevada, Idaho, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and parts of western Texas. North-central Montana is in its sixth year of drought with rain and snowfall deficits less than half of normal.
?Water supply forecasts are also bleak for parts of the West. In some areas, snow cover is only half of the normal and forecasts indicate flows on rivers, critical to meeting water supply needs, are also expected to be half of normal,? says Kelly.
Throughout the country, states have enacted emergency drought regulations. Virginia?s governor ordered drought restrictions, and New Jersey has declared a statewide emergency and water-use restrictions. New York City and Delaware are under drought warnings, and Maryland is about to enter a drought emergency.
Just north of New York, Rockland County has already enacted ?Stage Three? water restrictions, meaning residents aren?t allowed to water their lawns or hand-wash cars, and restaurants may not serve water unless specifically asked. These kinds of restrictions are usually seen only during the height of the summer. Rocklanders are facing ?the most serious drought conditions in our history,? says County Health Commissioner Joan Facelle. Water wars may be in the future, as upstate New Yorkers start to resent the heavy water use in thirsty New York City. Northern Californian farmers may feel the same way about Los Angeles water use.
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A severe drought on the U.S. East Coast and in the West will worsen during the coming months because light winter snowfall and early spring rains will not be enough to replenish water supplies, according to U.S. government weather forecasters.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says spring rain will be close to normal in the East and portions of the West. But much more is needed to alleviate a drought that has lasted as long as four years in some areas, effecting crop production and increasing the possibility of damaging wildfires.
?The drought in some areas will worsen as we move into the warmer months when demand for water is greatest,? says NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher. ?We don?t see the water levels returning to normal any time soon.?
Government data shows the United States is about to end the 14th driest winter since record keeping began more than a century ago. In February, severe to extreme drought conditions existed in about 20 percent of the contiguous United States.
A return of El Nino, which causes both droughts and devastating floods, could bring more rain to the northwestern and southeastern parts of the country.
The worst drought in recent U.S. history occurred during the summer of 1988 and affected 35 states, including some in the Midwest and Northern Plains that had rainfall levels 85 percent below normal. Crops and livestock died and forest fires destroyed more than 4 million acres of U.S. land. Even the current heavy rains and flooding in some parts of the U.S. may not be enough to alleviate the drought. ?I?m not trying to be gloom and doom,? says Jack Kelly, director of NOAA?s National Weather Service. ?What I?m afraid will happen is we are going to get enough rain to make lawns green … and people are going to say there is not a drought, and that is not the case.?
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