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Great U.S. Drought of 2012 to Last Into Spring of 2013

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 4:44 PM GMT on November 19, 2012

Beneficial rains over portions of the Central U.S. during the past week put a slight dent in the nation's worst drought since 1954. According to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor, the amount of the contiguous U.S. in moderate to extreme drought declined last week to 59%, down from the 65% peak of September 25, 2012. However, the intense drought is likely to persist through the winter, and its already heavily impacting the Winter Wheat growing season, which began in October. NOAA's latest State of the Drought product advised that the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) for the Primary Hard Red Winter Wheat area reached the lowest value since the 1950s in October. The persistent drought is also a major problem for Mississippi River navigation. According to a November 17 AP story, the Mississippi is so low that if it drops another five feet, barge traffic may shut down from St. Louis to the confluence of the Ohio River at Cairo, IL. The Army Corps of Engineers plans to lower the level of the Mississippi by 2 - 3 feet over the next few weeks, due to the need to conserve water in the upper Missouri River basin. The latest two-week forecast from the GFS model predicts very little in the way of precipitation over the nation's drought-stricken region over the next ten days, which is good for holiday travel, but will worsen the drought.



Figure 1. The latest seasonal drought outlook from NOAA's Climate Prediction Center calls for drought conditions to persist across most of the nation's drought areas through the winter of 2012 - 2013.


Figure 2. Amount of precipitation needed to bust drought conditions over the U.S., according to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. Southeastern Oklahoma and Northwest Arkansas need the most rain, at least 12 - 15".

Long-term drought outlook
NOAA's Climate Prediction Center predicts that neutral El Niño conditions will prevail this winter, and has cancelled their El Niño watch. The expected neutral El Niño conditions have prompted the Climate Prediction Center to forecast equal chances of wetter or drier than average conditions across the heart of the drought region during the coming winter. In general, droughts are more likely in the Central U.S. when warmer than average ocean temperatures prevail in the tropical Atlantic, and cooler than average ocean temperatures are present in the tropical Eastern Pacific (La Niña-like conditions.) Currently, we do have warmer than average ocean temperatures in the tropical Atlantic, but also in the equatorial tropical Pacific (0.5°C above average as of November 19), so this is a lower-risk scenario for Central U.S. drought than we had during the winter of 2011 - 2012. However, considering that most of the nation's drought regions need 6 - 15" of precipitation to pull them out of drought, the Great Drought of 2012 is likely to linger into the spring of 2013.


If you missed it, Sunday night's showing of renowned documentary film maker Ken Burns' new film, "The Dust Bowl" was a fascinating look back at America's greatest drought. I was most struck by the accounts of the great dust storms that swept through the Plains, which grew in frequency and ferocity though the mid-1930s. Part one closed with a song by folk singer Woody Guthrie singing "So Long, It's Been Good to Know You." Guthrie lived through the great dust storms of the Dust Bowl, when the dust storms grew so violent and the skies so black that people thought the end of the world was at hand. Part two of "The Dust Bowl", "Reaping the Whirlwind", shows tonight (Monday night), November 19, from 8 - 10 pm. It opens with Woody Guthrie singing "The Great Dust Storm", about the notorious "Black Sunday" dust storm of April 14, 1935--America's worst dust storm in recorded history.

Lyrics of Woody Guthrie's, "So Long, It's Been Good to Know You"
I've sung this song, but I'll sing it again,

Of the place that I lived on the wild windy plains,

In the month called April, county called Gray,

And here's what all of the people there say:

CHORUS: So long, it's been good to know yuh;

So long, it's been good to know yuh;

So long, it's been good to know yuh.

This dusty old dust is a-gettin' my home,

And I got to be driftin' along.

A dust storm hit, an' it hit like thunder;

It dusted us over, an' it covered us under;

Blocked out the traffic an' blocked out the sun,

Straight for home all the people did run,
Singin':

CHORUS

We talked of the end of the world, and then

We'd sing a song an' then sing it again.

We'd sit for an hour an' not say a word,

And then these words would be heard:

CHORUS

Sweethearts sat in the dark and sparked,

They hugged and kissed in that dusty old dark.

They sighed and cried, hugged and kissed,

Instead of marriage, they talked like this:

"Honey..."

CHORUS

Now, the telephone rang, an' it jumped off the wall,

That was the preacher, a-makin' his call.

He said, "Kind friend, this may the end;

An' you got your last chance of salvation of sin!"

The churches was jammed, and the churches was packed,

An' that dusty old dust storm blowed so black.

Preacher could not read a word of his text,

An' he folded his specs, an' he took up collection,

Said:

So long, it's been good to know yuh;

So long, it's been good to know yuh;

So long, it's been good to know yuh.

This dusty old dust is a-gettin' my home,
And I got to be driftin' along.


Video 1. Woody Guthrie wrote several songs about the Dust Bowl. Here is a version of his "Dust Bowl Blues", illustrated by some remarkable video of Dust Bowl scenes from the 1930s.

Links:
My post on Lessons from 2012: Droughts, not Hurricanes, are the Greater Danger discussed how drought is our greatest threat from climate change.

Ricky Rood blogs about the Dust Bowl

Jeff Masters
Low Man River
Low Man River
Mississippi River in Baton Rouge. River levels causing shipping and drinking water problems as salt water has crept 90 miles up to New Orleans.
low water river
low water river
Isaac on the lurk
Waterless
Waterless

Drought

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

Quoting Some1Has2BtheRookie:


The rover found the last known Twinkie?


You have to start terraforming one way or another :)
One month until the winter solstice...

Has everyone finished building their bunkers?
Quoting SteveDa1:
One month until the winter solstice...

Has everyone finished building their bunkers?

Oh, Steve. Quite the jokester are you.
As my "to do" list has increased to beyond my life expectation I am off for now. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!
Quoting washingtonian115:
Good morning wxchaser.Keeps those grades up and you'll be a sucessful young man hopefully doing good for humanity.

In terms of the cold it would seem that for us snow lovers in D.C if the NAO stays negative through out or most of winter with the borderline el niño we could have some good snows.

I have already known what I want to do and I am right on track. Thanks and I will try my best.

As for winter, I am almost done with my winter forecast blog. For your area, there should be some good snows and some cold air. Could be a mild spell or two but I think it will be better than last year.
Quoting washingtonian115:
I'm so proud of my daughter she had the highest test scores in the class with a 4.0 and is getting a schalorship.So proud.


Rock on Wash! Congrats to your daughter and all her hard work.
Quoting SteveDa1:
One month until the winter solstice...

Has everyone finished building their bunkers?


Not yet.........Still waiting for several magnitude 10 quakes around the world, in heavily populated areas, and a few major solar flares before Dec 21st before rushing the project to completion.
Quoting weathermanwannabe:


Not yet.........Still waiting for several magnitude 10 quakes around the world, in heavily populated areas, and a few major solar flares before Dec 21st before rushing the project to completion.


I understand! I wouldn't want to build a bunker for nothing either. Should be any day now. ... If you can build a bunker that fast, good for you!

I'm lucky, I'll be staying at a friend's bunker. ...
509. txjac
Quoting calkevin77:


Rock on Wash! Congrats to your daughter and all her hard work.


I agree with CalKevin ...that is awesome news. It's time to celebrate!
510. bwi
Quoting guygee:
BTW I have come to believe that the IPCC predictions are inherently conservative (meaning on the low side) and the 2 degrees Celsius is probably already locked in. I base this on the fact that their models lack a number of positive feedbacks and their utter failure in predicting the rapid decline of the seasonal Arctic Ocean ice extent and volume. Also I see almost no political will pushing towards reducing carbon emissions, in fact, quite the opposite, it looks like worse than BAU as we go down the chain into lower EROEI carbon-based fuels such as Canadian tar sands, low-quality coal and fracking (to name just a few).


I agree. I think Prof. Rood has the right idea. Rather than trying to explain science to people who don't want to learn, it's probably a better idea to refocus the debate on adaptation. And I think when people start to see the price tag for adaptation, including coastal flood protection, major shifts to drought-resistant agriculture, etc., they'll considering "paying for" those adaptations with various carbon taxes, which would have the beneficial effect of slowing down carbon consumption.

The carbon extraction industry doesn't have to pay for it's own externalities; that is, the impact costs that are passed on to society as a whole. It doesn't pay to clean up it's own waste products, so to speak -- those costs are pushed of on society, in terms of adaptation costs to climate change. In fact, we subsidize the extraction of carbon and it's burning in lots of ways: socialized roads, socialized parking requirements, direct subsidies to producers etc.

As people start to realize the high costs of adaptation, that could help them realize at the very least we need to stop socially subsidizing the very things that we're going to have to socially clean up from and adapt to!
Quoting SteveDa1:


I understand! I wouldn't want to build a bunker for nothing either. Should be any day now. ... If you can build a bunker that fast, good for you!

I'm lucky, I'll be staying at a friend's bunker. ...

The jokes just keep coming from you...
Quoting wxchaser97:

I have already known what I want to do and I am right on track. Thanks and I will try my best.

As for winter, I am almost done with my winter forecast blog. For your area, there should be some good snows and some cold air. Could be a mild spell or two but I think it will be better than last year.

YES!!! SNOW!!!!!
Quoting weathermanwannabe:
Good Morning. Same sentiments...........Happy Turkey Day to all the Folks on the Blog and have a safe holiday.

Leaving for Atlanta from Tallahassee this afternoon to the In-Laws for the annual deep fried turkey thang.

They are "Gators" so we will be watching the FSU/UF game on Saturday...........Praying that FSU will pull off an upset but not likely.............Oh Well.... :)


Atlanta is the best but...seriously?
Gators? FSU?
This is a boring end to the season...why can't we get a Category 4 in the East Pacific to round things off like last year?

Speaking of the EPAC...my predictions for the season that I made on May 8 called for 18 named storms, 10 hurricanes, and 5 major hurricanes. We currently sit at 17 named storms, 10 hurricanes, and 5 major hurricanes.

Maybe if we cheer the basin on, it'll produce one more short-lived tropical storm.
Quoting weathermanwannabe:
Good Morning. Same sentiments...........Happy Turkey Day to all the Folks on the Blog and have a safe holiday.

Leaving for Atlanta from Tallahassee this afternoon to the In-Laws for the annual deep fried turkey thang.

They are "Gators" so we will be watching the FSU/UF game on Saturday...........Praying that FSU will pull off an upset but not likely.............Oh Well.... :)


"Praying that FSU will pull off an upset but not likely"

The 'Noles are favored by 6 points. Can't call it an upset when a team is favored by that much. Also shows that Vegas knows best, not the stupid computers that the BCS uses.
517. etxwx
Quoting SteveDa1:
One month until the winter solstice...

Has everyone finished building their bunkers?


Still having trouble deciding on the wallpaper...can't decide between the Apocalyptic Azure, or the EMP Pink. :)

Hope everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving!
I will surrounded by Gators during the game, so I am hoping that the Vegas odds are correct.......Might have to place a few bets with the Family tonight an leave Atlanta with some spending money for the holidays....
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
This is a boring end to the season...why can't we get a Category 4 in the East Pacific to round things off like last year?

Speaking of the EPAC...my predictions for the season that I made on May 8 called for 18 named storms, 10 hurricanes, and 5 major hurricanes. We currently sit at 17 named storms, 10 hurricanes, and 5 major hurricanes.

Maybe if we cheer the basin on, it'll produce one more short-lived tropical storm.



I think we are done with name storms for this season
The reason the point spread exists is to get equal amounts of money bet on each side. It has no bearing on who they think will win...

Vegas doesn't pick winners, that's not how they make money. They do it by getting 50% to bet each side to make a clean rake off the top of the winners. This is why the line shifts back and forth all week, it is effected by where the money goes as they want to keep it equal as possible.
Quoting Grothar:


I don't know if you ever saw this, but we had fun with this one.



Hahaha, I love those sorts of videos; everyone here has shared them on Facebook plenty ;) It's like hearing newscaster after newscaster try to pronounce "yellowstone" as "Yettlahs-tan", "Utt-lowst-owen", "Yootlistnunina", etc ;) Really, though, unlike in the video, you generally have to really try to find words that Icelanders have trouble with; pretty much everyone here speaks great English (your best bet for stumping an Icelander is young children or old people).

The funny thing is, Eyjafjallajökull isn't really that hard of a word to say. It's just a compound word, a compound of three common words which are relatively easy to say even for an English speaker. The only reason it looks scary and you don't know where to start is that you don't know the words; I don't think it'd scare people as much if they saw the name as "Eyja Fjalla Jökull". Learn the rules that j is said like "y" and "ll" is pronounced kind of like "tl", and you'll be close enough that an Icelandic speaker can actually tell what the heck you're talking about. :)

If you want a real challenge as an English speaker, try "vatn", "auðvelt" or "hraun" (good 'ol devoiced, preaspired consonants!) - or if you have trouble with rolled "r"s, something like "örr" or "herra" :)

And btw, I was just teasing about the volcano that "erupted" - I'm sure New Zealand will manage to put out a half decent one eventually! ;) Hey, they beat us in the geyser department.
G'morning all..My current WU weather..

Link
Reuters:U.S. food banks raise alarm as drought dents government supplies

(Reporting By Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Addiitonal reporting by Charles Abbott in Washington, D.C.; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)
And as a side note, the less famous volcano that erupted here last year, Grímsvötn... it was kind of funny watching everything think that they were pronouncing it right (because it doesn't look as scary as Eyjafjallajökull) when in reality they were totally bungling it. It's more like KREEMS-vih(tn), where the r is rolled one or two flips of the tongue, the "ih" sound (ö) is said with rounded lips, and the tn, well, heh, good luck (devoiced, preaspirated, and different mouth positioning)
Quoting SteveDa1:
One month until the winter solstice...

Has everyone finished building their bunkers?


Won't do anything unless hurricane warnings are up. Will be fine.
Quoting KarenRei:
And as a side note, the less famous volcano that erupted here last year, Grímsvötn... it was kind of funny watching everything think that they were pronouncing it right (because it doesn't look as scary as Eyjafjallajökull) when in reality they were totally bungling it. It's more like KREEMS-vih(tn), where the r is rolled one or two flips of the tongue, the "ih" sound (ö) is said with rounded lips, and the tn, well, heh, good luck (devoiced, preaspirated, and different mouth positioning)
Or we can just say "That volcano in Iceland". ;)
523. pcola57 11:10 AM EST on November 21, 2012

Thank You..........The flip side of Thanksgiving and the Holidays for those less fortunate than many who Blog on here and, directly weather related. Not a bad idea to donate some food to your local food bank this Holiday Season.

Out until next week..............Peace.

Quoting jeffs713:
Or we can just say "That volcano in Iceland". ;)


Lol, but essentially every mountain here is a volcano - the only question for each is, "when did it last erupt? 100,000 years ago or last week?" ;) There's 15-some that have gone off in just the past hundred years, some multiple times (Grímsvötn alone goes off every 2-7 years).

I guess you might be able to get away with it if there's only one going off at a time.
Good late morning. Hate to bore you guys so much with this stuff but we just had another strong solar flare.

Space Weather Message Code: ALTTP4
Serial Number: 398
Issue Time: 2012 Nov 21 1606 UTC

ALERT: Type IV Radio Emission
Begin Time: 2012 Nov 21 1531 UTC
Description: Type IV emissions occur in association with major eruptions on the sun and are typically associated with strong coronal mass ejections and solar radiation storms.

1618 is a beast:

JeffMasters has created a new entry.
Quoting Jaxgator313:
The reason the point spread exists is to get equal amounts of money bet on each side. It has no bearing on who they think will win...

Vegas doesn't pick winners, that's not how they make money. They do it by getting 50% to bet each side to make a clean rake off the top of the winners. This is why the line shifts back and forth all week, it is effected by where the money goes as they want to keep it equal as possible.


In theory you are right. However, despite the rankings FSU is a better team than Forida. Both have great defenses. The achillies heal is Florida's offense. It is terrible and there's no dening it. It will be a low scoring game but FSU's offense will outscore Florida's. Noles 24-10.
Thanks Wunderbot
Quoting KoritheMan:


Really tired of hearing about how climate change was a key factor in Sandy's legacy. And this is coming from someone who is avidly NOT a denier.


Hmmm, "a key factor in Sandy's legacy" is, I reckon, the big story from all the hoo-haa. (In fact the AGW wars that took over here for a few days were a result of it.) Even the trolls would have to agree there's been an increase in awareness of "global warming" (whether AGW or not!) in the general population. Some of that will decline, of course, but if anyone's got a long term (decades) chart of polling data on the subject, some of the Sandy Effect will be permanent.
(Disclosure: I used to do web dev / Linux sysadmin stuffs.)

The "500: Server error" message is a symptom of the software that implements the WU site itself (rather than the underlying webserver) crashing. Well-written web apps only do that very, very rarely: they detect that something major has broken and return a polite "Sorry, something's broken" page, with all the usual logos and graphics and something. The terse error message is the best the underlying webserver can do to return an intelligible message to the end user.

In short, as others said up-thread -- yes, there's a problem with the site itself. Might be buggy code (a recent change, perhaps?) or a problem with the physical machine(s) it runs on -- running low on disk space, perhaps, or some component that's getting glitchy before it goes BANG and lets out the magic smoke? It could also be something like a problem talking to the backend database that holds all the user and comment info -- perhaps the database gets overloaded sometimes and returns data the web app that builds the page you get in your browser can't understand. (Again, the app should handle that, really, and show end users a polite "oops, something broke!" message rather than a terse HTTP server error.)

Either way, it's nothing to do with the state of your browser cache. Don't bother clearing it to try to use WU. Other sites don't need it, there's no reason WU should.




Couple of [mildly] interesting things that showed up when I was poking into the symptoms:

1. WU sends a custom HTTP header called "ICBM", with the value "42.27077866, -83.80866241". Here's that lat/long in Google Maps. It's a reference to this old hacker in-joke (Wikipedia.) I read that as "This site was built with clue".

2. The site seems to be running "Apache httpd 1.3.42 ((Unix) PHP/5.3.2)" . Apache 1.3.42 was released in early 2010, as was PHP 5.3.2 -- 04 Mar 2010 actually. That's quite old for PHP, but Apache 1.3.x is some of the most robust and reliable Free software available at this stage.