The western United States has suffered under intense drought for a few years. Brad Rippey, USDA Meteorologist and author of the U.S. Drought Monitor, says there has been at least some relief in the West.
“We’ve seen targeted relief this spring in the West, mainly across the northern tier, so from the Pacific Northwest to the Northern Rockies, it’s been a relatively cool, wet spring. So those mountain areas have been able to retain snow cover for a considerably longer period than usual, so we have above-average snowpack now in much of the Northwest. That should help, in terms of reservoirs, being able to retain slower snowmelt this spring across the northern tier of the West.”
However, despite some recent moisture, there’s a lot of drought remaining.
“Once you go from California eastward to the southern Rockies, things keep getting worse. Three-year drought for much of that region, now, we’ve had a lot of early-season wildfires, a symptom reflecting how serious the drought situation is in much of the Southwest. The West is kind of a split situation, too. We’ve got a drought recovery happening in the northern tier but worsening drought as you move to the southern half of the region.”
Looking at areas east of the Mississippi River Valley, there’s aren’t a lot of drought concerns outside the Deep South.
“The only area that has anything on the map right now is some D1 and D2, some moderate to severe drought, extending from Georgia into the eastern Carolinas. But even there, they’re getting some relief earlier this week. So, looking at not only the current situation but the outlook for the rest of the summer, we’re not expecting any major drought concerns for that eastern third of the country.”
It’s the third year that La Niña has impacted U.S. weather, and he says that means more drought in the West and less in the eastern U.S.
“The big story, potentially, heading into this third year of La Nina would be a summer of heat and generally dry conditions across the western half of the country. Expect to see drought-related issues from the Pacific coast all the way to the Great Plains this summer. And, as I mentioned at the very beginning, the likelihood that those hotter, drier conditions could spread a bit to the north and perhaps to the east as we go through the heart of the summer months, June, July, and August. And then, areas from really the Mississippi Valley eastward really not expecting any major drought issues as we move forward, so it’s kind of a west to east divide. One bad drought situation, worse to the West, and potentially very good growing conditions as you move to the east.”