Saturday, May 28, 2011

As La Niña subsides and hurricane season begins, will drought-stricken states finally get relief?

Tom Yulsman in Climate Central explores a dangerous interrelation apparently brought on by the La Nina event that devastated the world this year: One usually doesn’t cast a hopeful eye to the tropics during hurricane season. Yet that’s precisely what National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists did earlier this week during a briefing on the deadly and expensive drought afflicting much of the southern United States.

Texas and New Mexico have been hit particularly hard, with upwards of 90 percent of all counties in severe to exceptional drought (the latter being the most dire category). From January through April, New Mexico averaged a scant 0.79 inches of precipitation, making this the third-driest such period on record. And over the last month, the state has received less than 5 percent of its normal precipitation.

In the Lone Star State, 34 fires scorched nearly 62,000 acres in just the seven-day period ending May 27 — a follow on from a series of blazes in April that destroyed more than 400 homes. Austin has seen more than its share of woes. The elevation of Lake Travis, from which the city draws its drinking water, is 20 feet below average for this time of year, says Kris Wilson, a former television meteorologist and current senior lecturer in journalism at the University of Texas. In April, he came perilously close to losing his home in a wildfire. “I’ve never seen it quite so dry as it has been,” he says. “And it’s not done, I don’t think.”

During their briefing, NOAA scientists agreed. While there have been some pockets of relief, “drought has intensified since late April in Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma,” said Victor Murphy, climate program manager for NOAA’s National Weather Service Southern Region. And dry conditions are expected to continue in Texas for at least one more month, and possibly more.

Murphy says drought conditions could begin to ease in New Mexico by mid-June, when the annual summer monsoon typically begins. And Texas could eventually get some relief during this summer’s hurricane season, which starts June 1….

Wildfire in Texas and Mexico, from a NASA satellite on April 14, 2011

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