Carolinas parched and yearn for significant rain after months of dry weather

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It’s been a few hot, dry months across much of the eastern United States. The unusually calm and dry weather has been particularly difficult for the Carolinas, where sporadic forest fires have broken out amid a worsening drought.

The latest United States Drought Monitor (USDM) update on December 14 revealed drought conditions in over 80% of North Carolina and just under half of South Carolina. Severe drought conditions covered 42 percent of North Carolina, with nearly a quarter of South Carolina experiencing severe drought, the third category on the USDM’s five-category scale.

Precipitation totals since September 1 reveal how dry it has been in recent months. Charlotte, North Carolina, typically experiences about a foot of rain between early September and late December. This year, however, they saw just over half a foot of rain during the same time frame. It’s also a similar story across the border in Virginia, where Norfolk received only about 57 percent of its normal precipitation in the last four months of the year.

Two factors are playing a role in the ongoing drought in the Carolinas.

The first was the relative lack of tropical systems that moved through the region during the hurricane season. Only a few early season systems have followed the Carolinas this summer. Remnants of tropical systems can be an important source of precipitation in late summer and early fall. Most of this year’s landing systems avoided the southeast, and those that did not move quickly enough not to drop significant precipitation.

The second, and most important, factor was a persistent ridge of high pressure that corresponds to La Niña. La Niña years are generally characterized by upside-down weather conditions, with an undulating polar jet stream directed far into Canada. This pattern allows a ridge of high pressure to form over the southeastern United States, keeping the area relatively warm and dry for much of the winter.

That’s not to say we won’t have cold spells or snowstorms this year, of course, but the practical effect so far is that we’ve gone many weeks without significant precipitation over much of it. North Carolina and South Carolina so far. season. We can see the end result in the latest Drought Monitor update.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much relief in sight. It will take several inches of regular rain to alleviate the current drought. Current indications are that the warmer-than-normal and unusually dry trend will continue into the new year.


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