No one expects a repeat of the disastrous drought of 2011, even with much of the nation stuck in a dry spell that’s persisted for several months. “But it is a concern, a big concern,” says AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dale Mohler, State College, Pa.
Mohler says dry conditions are expected to persist across the “southern third of the country,” into spring, with little chance of significant improvement after that. “Most of the South is dry, with some areas drier than others. We are in a weak La Nina, the biggest factor affecting the drought for the next two to three months, through early spring.”
He says some areas of the South may get some snow or rain over the next three months, “but precipitation will be below normal.” Even with occasional snowfall or rain events, the South is expected to see a “net loss,” in moisture. “We could see a little more moisture in places but not enough to make a difference. We don’t see much change in the next three months.”
Many areas in the South have been without appreciable precipitation for 60 days or longer.
“Spring and summer could be a little more interesting as La Nina dies off,” Mohler says. “But will conditions change enough to bring in more moisture across the South?”
He says air mass storms may help the Mid-South and Southeast, but are less likely in the Southwest. “The chances of getting meaningful moisture in the Southwest are not good.”
He says members of the AccuWeather team say spring may bring some moisture, but question whether it will be enough to make a difference in soil profiles. “We’re just not sure yet; we may know more in another month.”
Mohler says limited precipitation may not be enough to substantially improve conditions for “summer crops that need a lot of moisture, like cotton and soybeans. Wheat also will need moisture. Southwest producers had good field moisture to establish the crop, but will need more when it comes out of dormancy in late winter.
“We think La Nina will be ending, but we don’t know the residual effects, or whether it will be replaced by a more friendly weather pattern.”
Mohler says drought — and rainfall — tend to persist. “When it’s not raining, it’s like an invisible dome prevents precipitation. We get feedback from moisture in the ground. It evaporates and puts moisture back in the atmosphere. We just need that first one or two rainfalls to break through.”
Continuous drought has the opposite effect. “And with no moisture, the soil may add as much as 5 degrees to soil temperature. Then the downward spiral begins. We still have a lot of uncertainty.”
Mohler says La Nina will affect weather from the Carolinas, into the Mid-South, the Southwest and across the Sunbelt to California. The further east we go, the better the chance of receiving moisture out of the gulf,” Mohler says.
“This is not likely to be another year like 2011, but this drought is a big concern.”