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Jonathan is an emergency management coordinator with a passion for all things weather. He currently lives in south-central Pennsylvania with his wife and son.

Will Drought Break in 2012?

Feb 08, 2012

Ever since that famous prognosticating groundhog was brought out of his hiding place in Punxsutawney, PA and forecasted 6 more weeks of winter; there has not been much news in the weather world.

One item that caught my eye in the weather news cycle was a suggestion by the US Climate Prediction Center that La Nina – or the cooling of Pacific Ocean temperatures near the equator – will continue into the spring months before weakening during the summer.
 
Pacific Ocean temperatures were -1 to -2 degrees below normal, indicating a continuation of the La Nina phenomema.  Graphic credit: National Climate Prediction Center (NOAA).
 
Historically, La Nina can cause or worsen dry conditions across the Southern tier of the US. The current drought effecting the Southern US, Central America, and parts of South America has been largely blamed on the La Nina phenomena.
 
Currently, the Eastern Pacific Ocean is running from 1 to 2 degrees below normal. Long-range forecast models suggest a gradual warming of the ocean temperatures beginning sometime in the spring and continuing into the summer. To what extent La Nina will weaken remains to be seen; however, it is reasonable to expect some relief in drought conditions across the Southern US, Central America, and South America.
 
Forecast models suggest gradual warming of Pacific Ocean temperatures from the current La Nina conditions.  Graphic credit:  National Climate Prediction Center (NOAA).
 
But the damage may already be done.
 
To date, La Nina has led to an agricultural disaster across the Americas. The US Drought Monitor reports drought conditions are expanding beyond the South, with drought conditions now being reported in parts of the Mid-West, California, and Rockies. In California, the US Drought monitor now reports 91% of the state is experiencing abnormally dry conditions, an 8% increase over the previous week. In addition, 57% of the state is in a “moderate drought”, an increase from 41% the previous week.
 
In South America, the dry conditions have led to a cut in corn and soybean crop forecasts, leading to an increase in prices. The US Department of Agriculture is expected to release its monthly supply and demand estimates report on Thursday. In it, the USDA is expected to highlight the South American drought and its expected impact on the US.
 
Does Rain Spell Relief?
 
Since the beginning of the year, parts of Texas have seen some relief with rainfall amounts ranging from 9-14 inches. Bloomberg reports that recent rains across Argentina have helped alleviate concerns about the corn and soy bean crop, although in some areas, the rainfall is too late to undo crop damage. Even areas of California that have seen a recent increase in drought conditions will see rain this week.
 
However, to call the latest round of rain “relief” may be too optimistic as many forecast models suggest a continuation of dry conditions.
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