With spring approaching, more than half the US is experiencing drought conditions expected to worsen with the last snow of the season approaching the West and unseasonably warm and dry conditions across the South, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center’s most recent report.
The National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln releases the latest drought monitor report every Thursday.
“Drought expanded by more than a percentage point this week, with moderate drought or worse (D1) now covering 51.2% of the US and Puerto Rico,” the Center wrote on Twitter.
According to the Center, this is the first time since 2012-2013 that more than half of the country has been in a drought.
To the West, the Rocky Mountains, central Utah, Nevada and the Pacific Northwest added to some snow totals after a dry trend. However, California is still experiencing extreme and severe drought conditions as snow levels have been below average.
“In California, there are many who fear that the snowpack has peaked for this season at 61% of normal, which will lead to further drought issues later on,” the Center report read.
Water sources continue to suffer as a result of drought conditions.
Lake Powell in Arizona is the second-largest water reservoir in the US and has reached historically low water levels.
“The elevation that is real critical is below which the power plant operation will not be available. That elevation is 3,490,” Colorado River Commissioner of Utah Gene Shawcroft said. “Right now we’re about 35 feet above that.”
Spring runoff from snowpack is primarily what contributes to the lake’s elevation levels.
“We’ve had some extremely wet months and extremely dry months, so we are hoping that March will be a wet month,” Shawcroft said. “If it is not a wet month we still have plans in place to keep the elevation at 3,525.”
The Center points to the South and Southeast as the most significant intensification of drought, including Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Warm temperatures and minimal precipitation led to the driest conditions along the southern coasts and Florida.
Now the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles are under exceptional drought. Meanwhile, drought conditions over west Texas, much of central and east Texas worsened as extreme drought expanded.
Abnormally dry and moderate drought conditions persist across the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida and Alabama.
For the last week, firefighters have been battling wildfires in the Florida Panhandle, which have burned more than 34,000 acres. The fires have been aided by dry conditions and debris from Hurricane Michael, which hit the Panhandle in 2018. The first significant rainfall since February was welcomed in the wildfire area on Wednesday, allowing firefighters to gain substantial ground containing the Bertha Swamp Fire.
The National Drought Mitigation Center indicates drought conditions could worsen in areas already experiencing extreme drought.
“As spring approaches and dormancy is broken, impacts are already showing in these areas, and drought intensification is widespread with quickly expanding extreme and exceptional drought areas,” the report states.