The Washington Post

Western drought continues with no relief in sight

(U.S. Drought Monitor)

The extreme drought in the western states continues unabated, according to the U.S. drought monitor, as California wraps up its warmest 6-month start to the year on record.

While the eastern half of the country was doused with rainfall and cooler than average temperatures over the past week, the West continued to be not only dry but abnormally warm, with temperatures running eight to 12 degrees above average. Even the Four Corners saw a surge of monsoonal moisture while the far West baked in the 90-100 degree heat.

January to June 2014 will go into the record books in California as the warmest first half of the year, according to the June State of the Climate report. The state is riding 4.8 degrees above average so far this year, which can only increase the anxiety around the state’s long-term drought. The entirety of California remains in at least a severe drought, and nearly 40 percent is in exceptional drought — the Drought Monitor’s most extreme classification.

According to the National Climatic Data Center, much of California would need three to six inches of rain over the period of a month in order to end the drought, and the central valley would need much more — 12 to 15 inches. With no relief of this magnitude in sight, concern about the 2014 California drought has given way to conversations about next year. Jay Lund and Jeffrey Mount, scientists that write for the California Water Blog, don’t have high hopes. “In the Sacramento Valley – which is the state’s largest water supply source,” they write, “there’s a 29 percent chance that the 2014-15 water year will also be Critically Dry, and a 64 percent chance that it will be Dry or Critically Dry.” To sum it up, Lund and Mount forecast that there’s a 71 percent chance of at least a below normal year in 2015.

Precipitation needed in order to end current drought conditions in one month. (NOAA NCDC)

All of this hot air has officials concerned about the threat of an extreme wildfire season. Signs of an active season have already begun in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, where wildfires have sparked and grown quickly, threatening homes.

In the southern Plains states, some minor relief to the long-standing drought was granted by storms. Early Thursday morning, heavy rain began to spread across northern Texas, and flash flooding shut down portions of I-35 after up to 11 inches of rain fell near Gainesville, Texas. This torrential rain, while dangerous in the short term, will feed the local reservoirs and provide some drought relief in northern Texas. According to meteorologists in the Fort Worth National Weather Service office, Lake Ray Roberts, just south of Gainesville, had already risen over one foot by 9 a.m. Thursday morning.

Angela Fritz is an atmospheric scientist and The Post's deputy weather editor.
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