As the U.S. enters the last part of the summer, fully one-third of the country is experiencing at least a moderate level of drought. Much of the West is reaching severe drought conditions and New England has been unusually dry and hot. In total, over 50 million Americans are living in drought-affected areas.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor program, more than 93% of Utah, Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico are experiencing drought to some degree. More than 60% of both Utah and Colorado are in severe drought. More than three-quarters of Oregon, Arizona, and Wyoming are also in drought. And most of these areas had no sign of drought this time last year.
Severe drought conditions result in stunted and browning crops, limited pasture yields, dust storms, reduced well water levels, and an increase in the number and severity of wildfires.
Warm air temperatures and minimal snowfall in spring set the stage for this summer’s drought conditions. A ridge of high pressure over the northeastern Pacific Ocean pushed the jet stream farther north than usual. And, once again, there has been a failure of the southwestern monsoon in Arizona and New Mexico and the Four Corners region. Monsoon rains provide half of the year’s precipitation in many of those areas.
Instead, there has been extreme heat in the region. Phoenix has already smashed the record for the most days over 110oF in a calendar year (42 as of August 18), with five months to go. Las Vegas hasn’t seen measurable rainfall since April, and Cedar City, Utah has recorded a record low of 0.05 inches of rain this summer.
Conditions are not expected to get better for a couple of months.
Photo, posted May 7, 2014, courtesy of Tyler Bell via Flickr.