Friday, February 1, 2013


The nation’s most expensive weather event in 2012 was not Superstorm Sandy, but the continuing drought, according to a report by the World Wildlife Fund.  The WWF says that more than 62 percent of the United States is still experiencing drought conditions, which will remain in effect into early 2013 at least.  Major findings in the WWF’s year-to-date review, issued Dec. 6, are: 

U.S. Drought - The Costliest Weather Disaster Of 2012.
Most extreme weather: Through November, weather in the contiguous U.S. has been the most extreme on record.  Costly year: 2012 has the potential to be the most costly year on record.  WWF estimates that costs from 2012’s 11 largest weather-related disasters in the U.S. will cost between $160 billion and $235 billion.  According to data assembled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for the period 1980 through 2011, 2005 was the costliest year, with $187.2 billion (2012 dollars) in damages (Hurricane Katrina alone accounted for $146.3 billion of that).  Drought disaster: The costliest weather disaster of 2012 has been the worsening drought, which could reduce Gross Domestic Product this year by as much as 1 percent, or by roughly $150 billion.  Impacts from the drought will spill over into the new year, which will start with far more serious drought conditions than at the beginning of 2012.  As of Dec. 4, more than 62 percent of the Unites States was in drought, twice the area in drought a year ago.  The “Seasonal Drought Outlook” issued by NOAA Dec. 6 indicates that while conditions will improve in some parts of the U.S., the drought will persist or intensify over most drought-affected areas.  Hottest year on record: 2012 is on track to be the hottest year on record in the contiguous U.S. According to NOAA “It appears virtually certain that 2012 will surpass the current record (1998, 54.3°F) as the warmest year for the nation.” - Daily Gazette.

U.S. Drought Revives Old Water War Among River States.
The water wars are raging again in America’s heartland, where drought-stricken states are pleading for the increasingly scarce water of the Missouri River – to drink from their faucets, irrigate their crops and float the barges that carry billions of dollars of agricultural products to market. From Montana to West Virginia, officials on both sides have written President Barack Obama urging him to intervene – or not – in a long-running dispute over whether water from the Missouri’s upstream reservoirs should be released into the Mississippi River to ease low water levels that have imperiled commercial traffic.  The quarrel pits boaters, fishermen and tourism interests against communities downstream and companies that rely on the Mississippi to do business.  “We are back to the age-old old battle of recreation and irrigation verses navigation,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri.  If the water is held back, downstream states warn that shipping on the Mississippi could come to a near standstill sometime after Christmas along a 180-mile stretch between St. Louis and the southern Illinois town of Cairo. But if the water is released, upstream communities worry that the toll of the drought could be even worse next year for farms and towns that depend on the Missouri. - Daily Chronicle.

Is The Drought Coming Back In Houston?
Much of the area received some much needed rain this week, but even with the rain there are concerns about a returning drought across the state.  "October and November of this year were the five driest October and Novembers on record. So this is not a good start for the winter. We have seen drought conditions getting worse across much of the state," said Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas State Climatologist.  The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook currently shows a persistent drought through the middle of the country including a developing drought in southeast Texas. "We have very hot waters off the Atlantic and that is helping to create heat waves and hurricanes," said Evelyn Browning - Garriss, editor of The Browning Newsletter. "The interior of the United States, including, unfortunately, Texas, tends to be slightly drier than normal and hotter than normal, so even what rain they get evaporates quickly."  Browning-Garriss is a historical climatologist who advises everyone from Texas cattle raisers to Midwestern utilities to Canadian banks about what the coming season will bring.  "This drought, I would expect to ease up over the next two years, but Texans need to start thinking like they did in the 1950s, when water was a very special resource and they had to be intelligent about the way they used it," said Browning-Garriss. "Normally this is the time of year we see the ground get wet and stay wet through the rest of the winter. We see reservoirs recharging. None of that has happened yet and it is like the recharge season is two months late already and counting," said Nielsen-Gammon. "In most of Texas, this drought is now in its third year and if we don't get significantly above normal rain fall, then we will be talking about a drought comparable to the 1950s." - Click2Houston.

WATCH: Devastating drought conditions in Texas.

Catastrophic Drought In The Horn Of Africa Delays Migrating Birds.
The catastrophic drought last year in the Horn of Africa affected millions of people but also caused the extremely late arrival into northern Europe of several migratory songbird species, a study published December 6 in Science shows. Details of the migration route was revealed by data collected from small backpacks fitted on birds showing that the delay resulted from an extended stay in the Horn of Africa. The extensive 2011 drought in the Horn of Africa had significant consequences for European songbirds such as thrush nightingale and red-backed shrike. These birds visit northern Europe every spring to mate and take advantage of ample summer food resources.  However, their spring migrating route from southern Africa to northern latitudes passes directly through the Horn of Africa, where the birds stop to feed and refuel for the next stage of their migration.  "Our research was able to couple the birds' delayed arrival in Europe with that stopover in the Horn of Africa. Here they stayed about a week longer in 2011 than in the years before and after 2011. Because of the drought, the birds would have needed longer to feed and gain energy for their onward travel, causing delayed arrival and breeding in Europe. This supports our theory that migrating animals in general are dependent on a series of areas to reach their destination,"says Associate Professor Anders Tøttrup from the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate at the University of Copenhagen. -Science Daily.

Ongoing Drought Raises Big Concern For Agricultural Future.
Agriculture is critical to Nebraska’s future, but Gov. Dave Heineman said the ongoing drought presents a challenge to the future of the state’s largest industry, which represents about 45 percent of the state’s gross domestic product.  From massive flooding along the Missouri River in 2011 to a massive drought that has engulfed all of Nebraska this year, Heineman told members of the Nebraska Farmers Union Friday that the weather has made a 180-degree turn from one extreme to another.  And the main concern is now “what is going to happen next year and the year after that,” he said... “What I really worry about is what is going to happen next year,” he said. “I think there is going to be a great deal of tension if we don’t get enough moisture, between agriculture users of water resources, businesses and cities.”... “But what we are concerned about, if we go through a second or third year of the drought, is its impact on agriculture,” he said. “Looking down the road, an extended drought will definitely have an impact on our state and it will be a difficult situation.” - The Independent.

Experts: Winter Wheat Farmers May Abandon More Than 25% of New Wheat Crop.

US winter wheat farmers could abandon more than a quarter of the new wheat crop due to devastating weather, though decisions on abandonment will not be made until spring, experts said this week. Historic drought, coupled with record warm weather and high winds sweeping across the Plains, have left the new crop in the worst condition in decades. With no significant improvement soon, many farmers could give up on their wheat acres.  Abandonment levels could exceed 25 percent, said Mark Hodges, a wheat industry consultant and executive director of Plains Grains Inc, which represents producers from around the Plains. "The potential is there," he said. "We are nowhere near a normal crop. But Mother Nature is very fickle," Hodges said. "Should we get some moisture, and I'm not saying the likelihood is high ... we could still produce some wheat. But the likelihood of significant moisture is not great before spring." - Business Recorder.

U.S. Drought Expands, Concerns Mount About Wheat and Rivers.
Drought continued to expand through the central United States even as winter weather sets in, wreaking havoc on the nation's new wheat crop and on movement of key commodities as major shipping waterways grow shallow. Unseasonably warm conditions have exacerbated the harm caused by the lack of needed rainfall. The average temperature for the contiguous United States last month was 44.1 degrees Fahrenheit, 2.1 degrees above the 20th century average, and tying 2004 as the 20th warmest November on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The year-to-date marks the warmest first 11 months of any year on record for the contiguous United States, and for the entire year, 2012 will most likely surpass the current record as the warmest year for the nation, NOAA said.     The warm weather accelerates evaporation of any precipitation that does fall, and keeps plants - like the new wheat crop - trying to grow, rather than slipping into normal winter dormancy. "We have not seen hardly any rain or snow around the Plains states. It is still very dry. And with these temperatures when you are having 60- or 70 degrees and high winds... it's going to be problematic," said Brian Fuchs, climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Areas of drought expansion last week were noted across parts of Texas, central Louisiana, east-central Missouri, eastern Kansas, and the Panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, according to the Drought Monitor's weekly compilation of data gathered by federal and academic scientists and issued each Thursday.  The U.S. High Plains, which includes key farm states of Nebraska, South Dakota, and Kansas, are the hardest hit. In that region, 58.39 percent of the land area is in extreme or exceptional drought, the two worst categories of drought. A week ago, the tally was 57.89 percent. Nebraska remained by far the most parched state in the nation with fully 100 percent of the farm state in severe or worse drought, and 77.46 percent of the state considered in "exceptional" drought - the worst level, according to the Drought Monitor. Overall, roughly 62.37 percent of the contiguous United States was in at least "moderate" drought as of Dec. 4, a slight improvement from 62.55 percent a week earlier,  The portion of the contiguous United States under "extreme" or "exceptional" drought expanded, however, to 20.63 percent from 20.12 percent. - Reuters.