The national drought footprint shrank slightly this week, as heavy rains fell across the South, Southeast, Midwest and parts of the Mid-Atlantic states, and major snowfall blanketed parts of the Rocky Mountains and Northern Cascades, bringing relief to those regions. However, the hardest-hit drought region — the Great Plains — continued to experience drier-than-average conditions, with the drought continuing to hold on.
A new federal drought outlook issued on Thursday projects that the drought conditions are likely to remain entrenched through April, and that the drought may even worsen from the Plains to the Rockies and into the Southwest, along with another area of persistent and expanding drought in the Southeast, including southern Georgia and the Florida Panhandle.
“Unfortunately it looks like most of the central and southern Plains . . . is going to continue to have significant drought problems,” said Anthony Artusa, a seasonal forecaster with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration(NOAA).
The economic impacts of this drought have been staggering. The drought of 2011-12, which is still ongoing, is comparable in size to severe droughts that occurred in the 1950s, and is already being blamed for more than $35 billion in crop losses alone, according to the reinsurance company Aon Benfield. Others estimate that the total cost could exceed $100 billion, making this event rival Hurricane Sandy for the most expensive natural disaster of 2012.
In Texas, which has been struggling with severe drought conditions since 2011, the areas of the state that recently emerged from drought are expected to slip right back into it during the latter half of the winter season and into spring, NOAA said.
As of Jan. 15, 58.87 percent of the land area in the lower 48 states was experiencing some form of drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. That marks a slight improvement from last week, when the number was 60.26 percent. More than half of the continental U.S. has been under at least moderate drought conditions since June. The drought peaked in July, when nearly 62 percent of the lower 48 states were classified as being in moderate drought or worse conditions.
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