Drought in western US will last into fall or longer, say forecasters

Drought affects the entirety of nine states, including California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Oregon and North and South Dakota.
Drought affects the entirety of nine states, including California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Oregon and North and South Dakota.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - The severe drought that has gripped much of the western half of the United States in spring and summer is likely to continue at least into late fall, government forecasters said on Thursday (Aug 19).

The outlook for September through November, prepared by meteorologists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, suggests that above-average temperatures are likely across almost all of the West, except for Washington and parts of Idaho, Montana and North Dakota.

Precipitation is expected to be below normal from the Southwest into the Rockies and the Northern Plains.

Together, that spells bad news for a part of the country that is already experiencing major effects of drought, including dwindling water supplies, stunted crops, barren grazing lands and exploding wildfires.

"For a lot of the western US, we are expecting drought to persist," said Mr Matthew Rosencrans, a NOAA meteorologist, during a teleconference with reporters.

According to the US Drought Monitor, currently 47 per cent of the land area of the contiguous 48 states is experiencing various degrees of drought, nearly all of it in the High Plains or from the Rocky Mountains westward.

Drought affects the entirety of nine states, including California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Oregon and North and South Dakota.

California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington experienced their hottest July in 127 years of record-keeping, while five other states, including Utah and Colorado, came close to setting records.

The drought situation is particularly dire in California, where 49 per cent of the state is in the most severe drought category.

Farmers in the state's Central Valley have had sharp cuts in their water allotments; wells are going dry in some towns; and several large wildfires are currently raging, including the Dixie fire, now the largest single fire in California history.

About half of Utah, one-third of Nevada and one-quarter of Oregon are in the most severe category as well.

Over the next three months, the drought may develop in northeastern Colorado and western Nebraska, Mr Rosencrans said.

The only improvement may be in western parts of Oregon and Washington.

Overall, the NOAA said, the 48 contiguous states experienced their 13th-warmest July ever.