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The Southwestern U.S. and the Borderland need some "Drought Relief"

Weather Talk

POSTED: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 - 12:00pm

UPDATED: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 - 12:15pm

Lack of rain and snowfall impacts agriculture, water reserves and our economy

A large part of the southwestern U.S is currently in severe to extreme drought conditions and has been for quite some time. This lack of rain and snowfall has affected our agriculture, water reserves and our economy.  El Paso is classified in the "abnormally dry" drought category and, as of the time I am writing this, the El Paso International Airport has only .18” so far this year well behind the 1.23” year to date average. There is a chance of rain this upcoming start to our Easter holiday weekend. There will be isolated area rainfall late Friday night into Saturday. There may even be a few well needed thunderstorms in our area as well. I decided to write today’s “Weather Talk” on what constitutes a drought, a little U.S.. drought history and our El Nino hope for rain later this year.

What is a drought? In my college meteorology text book “Meteorology Today” by C. Donald Ahrens, defines a drought as; “A period of abnormally dry weather sufficiently long enough to cause serious effects on agriculture and other activities in the affected area.”

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration there are actually four different ways that drought can be defined;


Meteorological - a measure of departure of precipitation from normal. Due to climatic differences, what might be considered a drought in one location of the country may not be a drought in another location.


Agricultural - refers to a situation where the amount of moisture in the soil no longer meets the needs of a particular crop.


Hydrological - occurs when surface and subsurface water supplies are below normal.


Socioeconomic - refers to the situation that occurs when physical water shortages begin to affect people.

The largest, most damaging U.S.. drought was the “Dust Bowl” from 1933 to 1938, During the month of July in 1934, 80% of the U.S.. was under a moderate or greater drought, and nearly two-thirds or 63% was in what us classified as a severe to extreme drought.

The next big period of drought in modern recorded history was from 1953 to 1957, severe drought covered up to one half of the country.

Because of their widespread occurrence, droughts often produce economic impacts exceeding $1 billion. The costliest drought on record was the 1988 drought, which devastated crops in the Corn Belt, causing direct crop losses of $15 billion and much larger additional indirect economic impacts.

According to the Albuquerque National Weather Service; “the start of the 2014 calendar year for New Mexico was extremely dry. January statewide precipitation was well below normal to non-existent at only 4% of normal! This was the driest January on record going back to 1895, with a statewide average of only 0.03 inches. February was an improvement, but still well below normal at only 27% normal precipitation. That makes the first two months of 2014 the driest on record, with only 16% of normal precipitation, and a statewide average of just 0.20 inches.As we reached the end of the March 2014, the northwest and southwest sections of New Mexico with mostly above normal precipitation, near normal for central areas and below normal for the east. Much needed, widespread, significant precipitation fell upon New Mexico during the first two days of the month, especially over the western and central areas. Storms through the rest of the month packed more wind than precipitation.”

Check out the latest drought map from the U.S.. Drought Monitor go to:
http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

The latest scientific data puts a 50/50 chance on "El Nino" returning this year. El Nino is a climatic event occurring every two to seven years, characterized by warming of surface waters and reduced upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich water off the western coast of South America, causing die-offs of plankton and fish and influencing jet stream winds, altering storm tracks and affecting the climate over much of the world. During El Nino’s the southwest United States and the Borderland receive above average rainfall and snow. The strongest El Nino event was during 1997 to 1998. The southwest and the Borderland saw an active "rainy" end of  to our monsoon season and many days of winter snowfall. I remember that year because Ski Apache shutdown on their required date by the forest service with a 90” snow base! That was the best skiing ever for the resort! I will talk more about "El Nino" in my next “Weather Talk”.

A drought is difficult for a region economically, dramatically depletes water reserves and kills off even native plants! We need water to survive and like anything we notice its value when we do not have enough. Let us hope for the long over do El Nino weather pattern to kick in this year to give us a little help. I think seeing some rain here in the parched desert will not only bring some water relief, but maybe some mental relief as well.
 

Chuck DeBroder, Chief Meteorologist
KTSM, NewsChannel 9, NBC, El Paso, TX
cdebroder@ktsm.com
www.facebook.com/Charles-DeBroder
www.twitter.com/ Chuck DeBroder NC9 @wxchuckNC9

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