2013: Year of the Drought?

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drought

The past two years have brought forth droughts that have had a devastating toll on our environment, and if forecasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are to be believed, 2013 will be no better, if not worse.

“The annual spring outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted hotter, drier conditions across much of the US, including parts of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, where farmers have been fighting to hang on to crops of winter wheat,” writes Suzanne Goldenberg at The Guardian. “The three-month forecast noted an additional hazard, however, for the midwest: with heavy, late snows setting up conditions for flooding along the Red and Souris rivers in North Dakota.”

For a quick flashback, the droughts of 2011 and 2012 were responsible for killing 500 million trees in Texas, slowing barge traffic on the Mississippi River, the death of deer, and forcing ranchers to slaughter cattle early. In fact, last years drought was said to have affected 40 of the 50 states and 80% of all U.S. farmland.

Katherine Bagley at InsideClimate News shares that we are in worse shape this year than in 2011 and 2012:

Nearly 80 percent of farmland experienced drought in 2012, with more than 2,000 counties designated disaster areas. By September 2012, 50 percent of the crops being harvested were in poor or very poor condition.

Last year’s damaged harvest is expected to raise food prices by as much as 4 percent in 2013, particularly products like beef, which suffered from a lack of available cattle feed and viable foraging options. Overall, the 2012 drought cost an estimated $150 billion in damage, as well as an estimated 0.5 to 1 percent drop in the U.S. gross domestic product.

Unfortunately, the solution is far from expedient.

“The drought that we accumulated over the last five or six years in the middle part of the country and also the south-west is going to take a long time to remove,” says Laura Furgione, the deputy director of NOAA’s weather service, to The Guardian. “The deficits in the soil and very unlarged, and it is very unlikely the seasonal mean precipitation will ameliorate that.”

The Guardian writes:

The prospect of another dry year caused concern along the Mississippi where low levels held up barge traffic last year. A coalition of mayors from towns along the river visited Washington this week to press for funds to keep the waterway open.

“If the river is shut out, that’s $300m a day that is affected by that in economic losses because you can not shift the traffic up and down the river,” said Hyram Copeland, mayor of Vidalia, Louisiana.

Communities across the wheat and corn-growing areas, that took the brunt of last year’s drought, had been looking for heavy snows and rains this winter to prime the land for the next planting season.

“The bottom line is we need a big spring because we do not have the buffer or carryover we did coming into 2012,” Mark Svoboda, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center, told a forum on Wednesday.

However, the forecast suggests that big spring will not materialise.

The scientists also note a growing demand for water – for cities, for agriculture – is leaving the country even more exposed to hotter, drier years like 2012.

“We have seen changes to our vulnerability to drought,” Svoboda said. “More straws in the drink is putting more demand on a finite water resource.”