U.S.: Drought, Dust, Rain, Flooding

1. Drought

* U.S. Drought Monitor: Current conditions


2. Dust

* Dust over the Four Corners Region [Earth Observatory;16 April 2013]

Dust plumes blew over parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah on April 16, 2013. The dust plumes arose in two large clusters, one in northeastern Arizona, and the other in northwestern New Mexico. The dust plumes grew in both size and intensity through the day. The plumes blew toward the northeast, possibly stirring additional particles as they moved.

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured the top image in the morning, and MODIS on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured the bottom image in the afternoon. Both images are natural color.

On April 16, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported that, with the exception of a small region in central Arizona, abnormally dry or drought conditions prevailed throughout Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah, with an area of extreme drought stretching across the Arizona-New Mexico border. Many of the dust plumes visible in these images arose in or near that area of extreme drought.

3. Rain/Flooding

* U.S. drought falls below 50 percent for first time in 10 months [Science Daily; 18 April 2013]

The area of the contiguous United States in moderate drought or worse fell below 50 percent for the first time since June 19, 2012, according to the latest edition of the U.S. Drought Monitor released Thursday.

Heavy precipitation across the Plains and the upper Midwest continued to ease drought. The area of the lower 48 states in moderate drought or worse declined to 47.82 percent, from 50.82 percent a week ago.

"We've been on a steady but slow recovery path from drought since the peak in September 2012," said Mark Svoboda, University of Nebraska-Lincoln climatologist and a founding author of the Monitor. "We've seen a much more active weather pattern lately across the midsection of the country, which has been eroding the intensity of drought as we head into spring. This is exactly what we needed."

Svoboda, the head of the Monitoring Program area at the National Drought Mitigation Center based at UNL, cautioned that improvement is still needed before the hot, dry season sets in.

Drought Monitor authors synthesize many drought indicators into a single map that identifies areas that are abnormally dry, in moderate drought, in severe drought, extreme drought and exceptional drought.

In the Midwest, heavy rains soaked into thawing soils and reduced drought in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Missouri, observed this week's narrative accompanying the Drought Monitor map.

The area of the Midwest in moderate drought or worse declined to 20.94 percent from 32.24 percent the preceding week, according to statistics released with the map.

In the Plains, drought receded in eastern Oklahoma, eastern Kansas, extreme eastern Nebraska and the Nebraska Panhandle, and most of the Dakotas. An area of exceptional drought, the worst category of drought, was eliminated from South Dakota. Heavy rains also improved conditions in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida. But decent precipitation eluded Texas and Arizona, which were among the few areas where drought got worse.

The U.S. Drought Monitor map is jointly produced by the National Drought Mitigation Center at UNL, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and about 350 drought observers across the United States. The map is released each Thursday based on data through the previous Tuesday morning.

Statistics for the percent area in each category of drought are automatically added to the U.S. Drought Monitor website each week for the entire country and Puerto Rico, for the 48 contiguous states, for each climate region, and for individual states. Data is archived to January 2000.

* Rains wash away US drought [New Vision; 19 April 2013]

CHICAGO - Torrential downpours across a broad swath of the U.S. Midwest this week are easing the worst drought in more than 50 years, flooding streams, snarling river transportation, stalling corn plantings - and changing the outlook for the American farm economy in 2013.
The Army Corps of Engineers is closing locks along a 150-mile stretch of the Mississippi River from roughly Davenport in Iowa to Hannibal, Missouri. Barge traffic was backing up Thursday, as water levels were too high for barges to take on grain.
The Mississippi and other major rivers are expected to begin cresting Sunday - and likely will run over levies in some areas. That is a sharp reversal from as recently as January, when low water levels disrupted the main water thoroughfares that bring grain from the nation's breadbasket to the world's markets.
"These rains are really helping bring most areas out of drought status. And the rain encompasses all of the western Corn Belt that was previously dry," said Don Keeney, meteorologist for MDA Weather Services, a widely followed commercial forecasting firm.
If the drought is ending, it would represent a sea change for the farm economy, where expectations for another dry summer had been baked in. Continued rainy weather could further delay spring plantings, cause a sharp fall in the price of farm commodities, and lower the cost of everything from hog feed to cereal ingredients.
Lower feed prices would help livestock and dairy producers, but soft grain prices could cut into farmers' incomes and perhaps even cause farmland values to retreat from recent record highs.
An end to drought conditions would bring a burst in economic activity across the agriculture industry - from farmers in the fields to those operating grain elevators, processing companies and shippers.
"If in fact the drought is easing, and if we are migrating to a situation that might afford better yields, to my mind, for the full value chain, it's a godsend," said Bruce Scherr, chief executive of agribusiness analytics firm Informa Economics. "Another year like last year would be devastating."
The 2012 drought brought corn production to only 10.8 billion bushels, a six-year low, with yields reaching a 17-year low of 123.4 bushels per acre.

The production losses added to the impact of rising exports to China and domestic demand for ethanol production to drive corn prices on the Chicago Board of Trade to an all-time high last August.
Farmers filed a record $11.8 billion in crop-insurance claims, according to Agriculture Department data. And farm income fell last year by 3 percent from a record set in 2011.
"Isn't it ironic that all winter we've been worried about dry soil, and all of that has changed in a period of four or five weeks," said Rich Feltes, vice president of research for Chicago commodities brokerage R.J. O'Brien.
Drought conditions persist in the southwest corner of the U.S. Plains where hard red winter wheat is a dominant crop. Southeast Colorado, southwest Kansas and the Panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma remain dry, Keeney said.

The western states of Kansas and Nebraska would need another 2 to 4 inches of rain to end the drought, he added.
In the western Great Plains, where some areas have experienced three years of dry conditions that have eliminated subsoil moisture, even a flurry of steady showers may not cause the drought to break.

"We just have very serious drought issues and we will not be able to eliminate them overall," said Dennis Todey, state climatologist with South Dakota State University, during a National Weather Service drought update call on Thursday.
For the rest of the Midwest, though, the drought may be ending.
Even before this week's rains, early spring showers had ended the drought in roughly the eastern two-thirds of the Midwest, Keeney said.
Since Saturday, more than 6 inches of rain has fallen in some areas, with much of the upper Midwest receiving at least 2 inches. Weather forecasters were predicting as many as 4 inches of rain in the next 24 hours.
Heavy rains overnight Thursday caused flooding in some areas, closing roads and clogging river traffic. In downtown Chicago, at least one expressway closed Thursday morning due to standing water, and commuter rail lines were delayed by switching problems related to the heavy rainfall.
High water also hindered barge loading at riverside grain terminals, while swirling currents impacted movement. At Gulf of Mexico export terminals, prices for corn and soybeans jumped by 10 cents a bushel as shippers scrambled to fill ocean-going vessels before much Mississippi River traffic grinds to a halt.
"When the river gets to these levels, people might not have enough clearance to get a barge under the barge spout to start loading it," said Gerald Jenkins, general manager at Ursa Coop, which owns three river elevators. "If it's not an issue today, it will be within a day or two because the river is expected to go up at least another 5 or 6 feet."
Rising water on the Mississippi River was forecast to close seven river locks from Muscatine, Iowa to Saverton, Missouri beginning on Friday, effectively halting barge shipping until at least next week, after the river crests starting on Sunday.
As recently as February, low water levels on the Mississippi had forced the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge shipping channels between St. Louis and Memphis, Tennessee.
More flooding could come in the next day or so in Missouri, northern Illinois, southeast Iowa and west central Indiana, forecasters said.
The Red River Basin, between North Dakota and Minnesota, also was expected to overrun its banks in late April, which would bring floodwaters into the grain fields of Manitoba, Canada.
The wet weather has caused U.S. corn plantings to fall behind the typical pace for spring seeding, but agronomists said farmers still have plenty of time to plant corn. And those who cannot get corn in the ground by mid-June can turn to soybeans, another cash crop.
"It's certainly delayed, especially when compared to last year's early start, but it's not late yet," said Robert Nielson, agronomist for Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday said 2 percent of the U.S. corn crop had been planted. Last year, 16 percent of the crop had been planted, and over the last five years, an average of 7 percent of the corn crop had been planted by this date.
Nielson said Indiana farmers would plant corn through the month of May, even on into early June, before switching from corn plantings to soybeans. Farmers who wait that long would switch to hybrids that mature more quickly than common corn, he added.
Emerson Nafziger, agronomist for the University of Illinois, said any further delay in planting could affect crop yields. "Nobody is panicking yet, but it does put planting behind, and everyone knows that on average late planted corn doesn't yield as well," he said.
Gary Blumenthal, head of agricultural consultancy World Perspectives in Washington, said farmers who spent most of last summer desperate for rain are now concerned they won't get to plant their corn on time. "There's a lot of uncertainty, but it's just uncertainty," he said. "I'm not sure we are at the point where we have certain adverse impact. My goodness, it's only April 18."

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Comment by Kojima on May 12, 2013 at 2:25pm

Fires in California

* View all [Earth Observatory]

* Summit Fire, California

* Panther Fire, California

* Springs Fire, California

* Mapping the Severity of Springs Fire from Space

* Dangerous wildfire season predicted for California [USA Today; 26 April 2013]

* Southern California coast wildfire threatens 4,000 homes [Reuters; 3 May 2031]

The so-called Springs Fire and a flurry of smaller blazes around the state this week marked an abrupt start to a California fire season that weather forecasters predict will be worsened by a summer of high temperatures and drought throughout much of the U.S. West.

* Springs Fire. [CAL FIRE]




Comment by Kojima on May 12, 2013 at 12:57pm

Comment by Kojima on May 5, 2013 at 2:25pm
Comment by Tracie Crespo on April 28, 2013 at 4:11pm


Storms sweep across Texas and the South, dumping up to 7 inches of rain

Cody Duty / AP

Cars are stranded in southwest Houston, which was flooded after an afternoon downpour Saturday.

A line of severe thunderstorms swept across Texas and parts of the South on Saturday, dumping more than 7 inches of rain in some places.  In Tennessee, animals reportedly escaped from a shelter after it was hit by the severe weather. 

There were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries, but Houston fire Sgt. Jay Evans told The Weather Channel said officials were encouraging people in the south and west of the city to stay inside. Houston firefighters said they conducted at least 150 water rescues.

An unknown number of animals were on the loose in Fayette County, Tenn.,  after Fayette Country Animal Rescue was damaged in the severe weather, NBC's WMCTV.COM reported

The Houston suburb of Sugar Land got 7.2 inches of rain, The Weather Channel reported, and one photo showed a dozen cars partly submerged below a Houston overpass.

The line of storms stretched from the Texas-Mexico border through Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky. The rough weather was caused by the collision of a cold front and warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico.

Comment by Pamela Copple on April 28, 2013 at 9:47am
Comment by Kojima on April 28, 2013 at 2:30am
Comment by Kojima on April 28, 2013 at 2:23am

* Flooding in Michigan [Earth Observatory; 21 April 2013]

Heavy rain flooded parts of Michigan in April 2013. On April 23, the Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service reported moderate flooding along the Saginaw River and major flooding along the Grand River near Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite observed flooding on April 21, 2013 (top image). For comparison, the bottom image shows relatively normal conditions on April 5, 2013. These images use a combination of infrared and visible light to increase the contrast between water and land. Water ranges in color from electric blue to navy; vegetation is bright green; bare ground appears in shades of red-brown. Clouds vary from white to pale blue-green, and some cast shadows.

On April 21, the Grand River was swollen both east and west of Grand Rapids, but some of the most obvious flooding occurred around Saginaw. On April 23, MLive reported:The rain finally stopped, the sun started to shine, and the water actually started to recede. But it may take several days for the water to make its way through Saginaw County so roads can reopen, basements can dry, and farmers can plant their fields.” The Saginaw River was expected to remain above flood stage until April 28.

Compared to earlier in the month, the image from April 21 shows a greater degree of greenness. This is likely spring vegetation growth across the state.

* Flood Waters along the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers [Earth Observatory; 20 April 2013]

A week of heavy rains caused flooding in multiple Midwestern states in April 2013. The Associated Press reported that some areas received up to 7 inches (18 centimeters) of rain, and some rivers burst their banks. High water forced road closures and evacuations, and inundated thousands of acres of farmland.

Flooding swelled the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers near their confluence north of St. Louis. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured the top image on April 20, 2013. MODIS on the Terra satellite captured the bottom image on April 5. The bottom image shows relatively normal water levels for comparison.

These images use a combination of infrared and visible light to increase the contrast between water and land. Water ranges in color from electric blue to navy; vegetation is bright green; bare ground appears in shades of red-brown. Clouds range from white to pale blue-green, and some cast shadows. The color of the April 20 image (compared to April 5) reflects the normal progression of spring vegetation growth, though it is possible there is some extra greening from recent rains.

In early April, some stretches of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers were confined to braided river channels. But by April 20, the water rose high enough to merge some channels and spill onto floodplains in multiple locations. Water generally appears lighter in color in the April 20 image, likely because of heavier loads of mud and sediment.

On April 22, 2013, the Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service reported flooding at many locations along the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, including major flooding just north of St. Louis.

Comment by Kojima on April 25, 2013 at 3:17am

* Experts Predict A Smoke-Filled 2013 Wildfire Season [Property Casualty 360; 4 April 2013]

Persistent Drought, Mild Winter Ignite Concerns

On the heels of another dry winter, weather experts and firefighters are concerned the impending wildfire season could echo last year’s devastation, during which 9.2 million acres burned.

Large swaths of the western United States—from Southern California and Nevada across Utah, Colorado and Wyoming to Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska—are experiencing unseasonably high temperatures and long-term drought conditions. California has already battled at least one wildfire, which originated in Riverside County on February 28. Meanwhile, a series of small brush fires broke out in late March along the edge of Albuquerque, New Mexico. These early “smoke signals” remind authorities of the looming fire risks posed by dehydrated plant life and wind gusts.

Could History Repeat Itself?

While experts say it’s still too early to accurately predict what the 2013 season will hold, the National Weather Service (NWS) calls for another hot, dry summer. That, coupled with the fact that fires have broken out pre-season, has ignited concerns about severity. 

“Weather pattern influences, including last winter’s dry, low snowpack season contribute to the impending danger of wildfires,” says Jeffrey Berino, deputy chief with Colorado's Lake Dillon Fire District and senior fire investigator at Pie Consulting & Engineering. “Another factor is [last] year’s wildfires began before Wildfire Season officially commenced on May 21. In fact, before the end of February, a call came in for the first wildfire of the year, which was caused by a lightning strike in the Southwest.”

It's no coincidence that 2012 was the warmest year on record for the U.S. According to the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., last year's heat broke the previous record set in 1998. The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) also reports sweltering summer temperatures contributed to 2012’s massive wildfires, which burned an area roughly equivalent to Massachusetts and Connecticut combined—or 9.2 million acres.  

One state severely impacted was Colorado, which saw 12 wildfires in 2012, including the Waldo Canyon Fire, which was the most destructive in the state’s history. The Waldo Canyon forest fire started 4 miles northwest of Colorado Springs on June 23, 2012, and it was still considered active as late as August 27, 2012. In addition to causing more than $350 million in insured losses and consuming 346 homes, the fire necessitated the evacuation of 32,000 residents in Colorado Springs and adjacent mountain communities. 

Could we see fires of similar magnitude this season? If climate change is taken into account, wildfire losses could become more difficult to control and ultimately extinguish. This would therefore impact loss severity.

* California officials say dry winter makes brush fires more likely [UPI.com; 20 April 2013]

LOS ANGELES, April 20 (UPI) -- Firefighters in Los Angeles said the lack of rain has brush drying out at a rate not generally seen until June or July, making wildfire conditions ripe.

Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Jamie Moore said aerial inspections show large amounts of brush have grown significantly since last year, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday.

"It is alarming how much the brush has grown since last season," he said. "We have a lot of dry underbrush. We have 20- or 30-foot-tall trees with brush and undergrowth."

State forestry officials said they've responded to 150 more brush fire calls this year than they had by this time last year.

Los Angeles has seen just 5.4 inches of rain, down from a seasonal average of 14 inches.

Comment by Kojima on April 24, 2013 at 2:24pm

Flooding Delays Start of Planting Season for Local Farmers [KWQC.com; 24 April 2013]

All the recent flooding has been causing a lot of inconvenience for a lot of people. For area farmers, it has put most planting plans on hold for now.

All of the flooding has taken farmers' worries from one extreme to the other - While at the end of last season, they were concerned about dry weather, this year, it has been far too wet.

Keep in mind that last year at this time, farmers were celebrating a perfect planting season. And we all know how that turned out - with the drought hitting local farms pretty hard.

This year, there has been a swing far in the other direction - with fields so flooded, farmers can't put anything into the ground.

"We were so worried about the drought and if we were going to have enough moisture," said Kevin Urick, Henry County Farm Bureau President, "And now I can say yes, we have enough moisture."

But when it comes to farming, there can definitely be too much of a good thing.


A lot of fields are now underwater. Some are pocked with puddles, others look like lakes.

And all that water has local farmers in a holding pattern.

Last year, April 23rd was the day Kevin Urick finished his planting on his Prophetstown farm.

This year, he's nowhere close to starting.

Any seeds planted now would struggle to sprout in all this water. Plus, the soil is still too cold to support corn and soybeans anyway. Farmers who tried to plant those crops in the current conditions would more or less be throwing away their money.

Still, it's not time to throw the towel in on this season just yet.

"Hopefully, we can get the crop in here in the next three weeks," Urick said.

Typically, corn gets planted mid-April to mid-May, so there's still plenty of time for it all to turn out.

"You can sometimes plant corn up until the first part of June," Urick said. "People have, when we have had wet years,"

"You get discounted," he added, as a word of caution.

Urick says, in general, for every day you don't have corn planted after you hit mid-May, that's a couple bushels a day in yield you will be losing.

But that is not set in stone.

"In 2009, we got our crops in a little bit later. We had a good yield," Urick recalled.

What matters now is how the weather shapes up for the near future.

A stretch of warmer, drier weather should get everything back on track.

"You know, farmers are generally optimistic," Urick said.

And, ever the optimist himself, Urick pointed out that there's already one silver lining to this rain cloud: At least there won't be as many weeds to take care of when farmers finally can start planting their fields.

Urick says, despite the rough weather, he has seen some planting going on in the area. Potatoes are one of the only crops that can tolerate these cooler soil temps, and where the soil is dry enough, farmers are putting those in the ground now.

Comment by Kojima on April 24, 2013 at 2:24pm

Crest records for N. Illinois rivers [Chicago Tribune; 23 April 2013]

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