Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Experts Predict Scorching Summer

USA Today: As Memorial Day weekend beckons, federal climate scientists predict drought will intensify in much of the West this summer and persist in the fire-scorched Southeast despite recent rain.

People heading out this holiday to fish and boat in the Southeast could find lakes and reservoirs so low that sandbars and stumps pose hazards. Campers and hikers in the Southwest may see restrictions in national forests dangerously dry from years of drought.

In its drought outlook for June, July and August, the federal Climate Prediction Center foresees some improvement in the Gulf Coast states, including central and South Florida and the state's Panhandle. But southern Georgia and northern Florida, raked by wildfire this month, "may see deterioration" even though the rainy season is due to start, the center reports.

"Fire is the big story," says Mark Svoboda of the National Drought Mitigation Center in Nebraska. "The lack of spring rains has increased fire incidence."

The climate center outlook also expects little lasting relief in dry areas of the West, from California across Nevada and Utah, and new drought areas developing in large parts of Idaho and Oregon.

…Drought, a scourge in the West for nearly a decade, now afflicts about one-third of the contiguous USA, including part of the upper Midwest. The total rises to 49% with areas classified as "abnormally dry." More than 40% of Alaska fits into that dry category. In the West, 69.5% of the region's 11 states were either in drought or abnormally dry, nearly double the area affected a year ago.

The snowpack in California's Sierra Nevada averaged just 29% of normal this winter. Although water left over from last year's spring snowmelt should fill municipal tap water needs this year, another subpar winter could jeopardize California's water supply.

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